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Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

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Section I: Inclusive Service Environments

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***Please Note: the information in this handbook is currently being revised and updated. Please check back soon for updates to this page and new resource information. If you have a question about any specific content, or are seeking additional resources while potential revisions are in progress, please email NSIP and we would be happy to respond with any inclusion information you require. Thank you for your patience as we make these updates. -NSIP Staff

Key Words and Terms

What is an inclusive service environment?

Creating an inclusive service environment is challenging, thought provoking, and rewarding. It is a continuous process, one that evolves and responds to changes in the environment or in policies. It becomes an integral part of all that you do, from kick-offs to celebrations, from recruitment to retention, from policy to practice. It impacts team-building and participant development. It is an integral part of strategic planning and meeting planning. It benefits individuals with disabilities and those without. It guides those who are served and those who serve, those who direct and advise, and those who lead.

An inclusive service environment starts with the actions and attitudes of the individuals who are already in that environment. A program manager who thinks first about what someone can do is sure to be more inclusive than one who thinks about an individual's limitations. A program manager who uses "people first" language is already aware that individuals with physical or mental limitations are people before they are disabled. A program manager who leads by example, who provides training in disability awareness and sensitivity, and who works to ensure equal expectations and contributions will be more successful in creating an inclusive service environment than one who does not.

What are the elements of an inclusive service environment?

An inclusive service environment ensures the respect and dignity of individuals with disabilities. It does not pry into medical histories or diagnoses, and it guards against the casual exchange of privileged information. It speaks and listens to the individual with a disability. It understands that personal preference in accommodation is often a personal need. It is flexible when necessary.

The built environment (paths, doors, rooms, restrooms, kitchens) of an inclusive service environment meets current accessibility standards to the greatest extent possible. Accessibility is considered when planning events, seeking program or meeting space, and evaluating placement sites. When you move desks or serve refreshments, give consideration to ensuring the continued ability of persons with mobility, hearing, visual, and cognitive disabilities to continue to use the space independently. There are community organizations that can assist you in considering accessibility, as well as numerous guides and checklists.

Ensuring that background noise in meetings is minimized helps everyone at the meeting.

An inclusive service environment willingly and proactively provides accommodations. When requests are made and questions arise, the individual making the request is asked for clarification first before anyone else. In an inclusive service environment, the first considerations are ensuring access, opportunity, independence, and dignity; not cost or inconvenience.

There should always be a 36-inch wide path to all areas.

In an inclusive service environment, persons with disabilities are welcomed and are valued for their contributions as individuals. The presence of a disability is not seen as a detriment. Rather, disability is valued as part of the range of diversity that exists in the human condition. In some cases, a disability can present challenges that allow program staff and participants to grow and to enhance their knowledge and skills. In an inclusive service environment, staff and participants work with the goal of ensuring full inclusion and participation of an individual with a disability. Everyone is aware that excusing an individual from activities (e.g. "It is okay if you don't come to the meeting because it is in an inaccessible location.") or denying information (e.g., "Never mind that you cannot hear the training, it is not that important anyway.") are exclusive actions. In an inclusive service environment, full participation is not the goal- it is the action.

Providing accommodations can assist in full participation in all activities.

An inclusive service environment understands that every individual is just that- an individual. No two people experience disability in the same way. Two individuals with the same disability may have very different perspectives, attitudes, interests, backgrounds and skills. An inclusive service environment sees individuals, not stereotypes.

Interacting with People with Disabilities
Some Basic Etiquette

Does language matter?

Language often shapes our perception.Using "people first" ("person with a disability", "person with a vision-loss") helps remind us and others that people with disabilities are people first, and are more than their disability.

Instead of: Use: Because:
The Handicapped Persons with Disabilities Handicapped is derived from "cap in hand" and implies that someone is dependent on society.
The Disabled Persons with Disabilities One is a person before one is disabled.
Wheelchair Bound, Confined to a Wheelchair Uses a Wheelchair or Wheelchair User A wheelchair is not confining- it allows movement from one place to another.
Birth Defect Congenital Disability Persons with disabilities are not defective.
Crippled Has a Disability Crippled comes from Old English "to creep" and is also used as an adjective meaning inferior.
Mongoloid Persons with Down Syndrome Mongoloid is a racist term.
Mental, Crazy, Psycho, Insane, Nut Case Person with Mental Illness These are offensive and negative sterotypes.
Normal, Healthy, Whole Non-Disabled People with disabilities may also be normal, healthy, and whole.
Deaf and Dumb, Deaf-Mute Person who is Deaf or a Person who Does Not Speak Simply because someone is deaf does not mean they cannot speak, and they are not dumb.

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©The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) is a training and technical assistance provider on disability inclusion. NSIP partners with the Association on University Centers on Disability, National Council on Independent Living, Association on Higher Education and Disability and National Down Syndrome Congress to build connections between disability organizations and all CNCS grantees, including national directs, to increase the participation of people with disabilities in national service.