2018 Scholarship Recipient

If I could solve one problem that faces our society today it would be how to be more inclusive of people with special needs, an issue I feel very strongly about. As a young child I was inspired by my Uncle Mike, who worked hard to be included, in spite of an intellectual disability. Just like me, he wanted to feel needed and productive. I have attempted to get involved in addressing this issue through my membership in organizations like Buddy Ball sports and Best Buddies. Both of these organizations provide opportunities for “typical” individuals to interact with those with special needs. Buddy Ball sports focuses on creating opportunities for interaction and fun through sports, such as basketball. Best Buddies is a school based club that focuses on purely social interactions.
My examination of inclusiveness would begin with gathering information through surveys directed at people with and without special needs. These surveys would be given out in both school settings as well as in community-based settings, such as in front of local grocery stores. The surveys would include questions designed to help “typical” individuals and those with special needs better understand each other. For example, the surveys could ask, “What could others do to make you feel more included?” Another survey question could be, “In what activities would you like to participate?” Based on these surveys, curriculum could be added to school programs to educate “typical” individuals on ways to be more inclusive and accommodating of people with special needs. Additionally, programs could be developed for broader community participation, beyond school age individuals.
The journey to inclusion can start in many different places. We are hoping to accomplish the goal of helping people with special needs to feel like they are valued members of society. One way to help people with special needs feel included is through organizations like Best Buddies. School-based programs like Best Buddies, however, limit the participation of the larger community in which the school resides. Finding a way to increase the frequency of interactions between people of all abilities can help all participants to develop increased understanding and empathy. A socialization program operated through the local community center could be a great way to facilitate inclusiveness for all ages, not just school-age community members. This type of program could host community wide mixers for people of all abilities and all ages, bringing people together in a safe, comfortable and fun environment. In addition, I would suggest that more sports programs are enacted like the Buddy Ball Program. These programs offer kids with special needs the opportunity to be active in a supervised and no pressure environment. Kids with special needs also get the opportunity to make friends and explore social opportunities with other kids that have special needs. They also teach volunteers skills of compassion, empathy, and patients. They are mutually beneficial programs that make kids feel like they are included and truly part of the community. However, I would like to expand these types of programs to include disabled people of all ages. This way, the program would be fully inclusive and give people that have special needs of all ages a chance to get active. Finally, I would suggest that community leaders recruit local businesses to utilize volunteers with special needs. This type of program would promote understanding and empathy in another type of setting, the workplace. This is an essential and major part of society that needs to be integrated if we ever hope to reach full inclusion. It does not have to be major jobs but if every company cared enough to find a place for people that have special needs we would have inclusion in no time. This way people who might not have seeked opportunities out to interact with people that have special needs would be able to see that these people deserve to be included. It would get rid of a lot of the misunderstanding that people who don't interact with people with special needs might have.
I believe that improving inclusion for individuals with special needs warrants increased attention. If I could solve one problem that faced our society this would be it. At this time when the country seems more divided than ever, I believe we can strengthen our communities by illuminating the value of each person, regardless of their abilities.

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