Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend my fourth Best Buddies Leadership Conference. A conference where people from all over the world come together to celebrate Best Buddies and what they stand for. Best Buddies is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) through one to one friendships, integrated employment, leadership opportunities, and inclusive living. This year, the theme of the conference was inclusion. That’s why I decided to write about the road to inclusion in today’s society and recap a bit of the leadership conference.
First, inclusion is defined as the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. During the conference one of the keynote speakers talked about inclusion as if it was a table with seats. If our world was a fully inclusive place to live everyone would have a seat at the table regardless of their color, religion, sexuality, diagnosis, income, etc. You may be thinking that our world is an inclusive place to live, and yes, we are making strides, however, there is still soooo much work to do.
Take a moment to think of everything that you’re involved in and all of the opportunities that you have. You can probably think of a sport you play, a club you’re in, a job you have, or even a group of friends you hang out with. That’s awesome if you can list some of those things. Having all of those opportunities probably means that you have a seat at the table, but let me tell you this, some people still don’t have a seat. Some people aren’t allowed to play on their school’s sports teams or join clubs that they are interested in. Some might not get hired for jobs that they are fully qualified for. And some don’t even have a friend to sit with at lunch. Why? Simply because of a diagnosis/ disability they have. Not because they don’t want to, they just don’t have the same opportunities that you and I have. That’s why nonprofits such as Best Buddies, Special Olympics, and Gigi’s Playhouse exist. They are helping create opportunities for ALL people through friendships, integrated employment, unified sports, and also leadership development, so that everyone, regardless of if they have a disability or not, is able to have a seat at the table.
I’m grateful to be a part of Best Buddies and a community that is striving to create a more inclusive world. I challenge you to do the same! You don’t have to be involved in Best Buddies, Special Olympics, or Gigi’s Playhouse to be more accepting and inclusive. All you have to do is offer a seat at the table to someone who may not already have one.