International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Inclusion in Action

December 3, 2015

The theme of this year's International Day of Persons with Disabilities is, "Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities." Improving inclusion has been a major goal for AUCD's UCEDD and LEND programs over the past year, culminating in the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to assist our network members in their inclusion and diversity efforts. The importance of this effort cannot be stressed enough. We live in an increasingly connected world.

The ongoing refugee crisis from Syria has emphasized the importance of having culturally and linguistically competent faculty and staff at our centers. Dr. Jean Beatson, from the VT LEND program has noted in our webinar, Creating Effective Refugee Community Partnerships: Two Perspectives. Presented by Dr. Jean E. Beatson and Dr. Hyojin Im, "Refugees experience a unique and tremendous challenge before, during and after migration." Some of these challenges are lack of access to social protection, healthcare, education and social services. People with disabilities within refugee communities face even more barriers.

What are some of the things our network members are doing to enact greater inclusion and access to our services for refugees and what lessons can we learn from each other? The VT LEND program is leading the way. Integrating cultural and linguistic competence into multiple professions is key. "We incorporate [cultural and linguistic competency] into every class we teach," said Dr. Beatson. Diversifying their LEND program started with hiring, particularly in leadership positions. The VT LEND hired a multicultural director who brought a much needed and diverse perspective to the table.

Partnering with former refugees in the Burlington, VT area has also helped to diversify their LEND program. Dr. Hyojin Im of Virginia Commonwealth University has noted that former refugee communities have many members who have attained a high level of education and who would love to get involved in LEND. Mentoring and encouraging leadership from refugee communities is key. Dr. Beatson said, "Our current trainees [with refugee backgrounds] are referring new trainees." This year, the VT LEND had three trainees who were former refugees. Next year, there will be seven. Targeted outreach gets results.
Improved inclusion of refugee populations is not only helps them to gain access to services, but it has enriched the VT LEND program. "We are learning things now that we would have never known were it not for our diverse trainees, faculty and staff." We live in an increasingly connected world. We must work for our centers and programs to reflect that. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, consider how you can bring the values of inclusion and multiculturalism into your program.

Please peruse our Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to learn more on how to improve inclusion for refugees. The toolkit also provides a wealth of information about how to increase the presence of underserved and historically excluded populations to enrich your center or program's work. The toolkit is a dynamic, ever growing project. We invite you to contribute to it. Let's learn from each other.