I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but it’s one of those “tread lightly” things, and that’s not my best skill, so I’ve put it off, but I think today is the day.
I’ve written before on whether or not it’s possible for those with disabilities to be ableist towards others with disabilities. While it’s a divisive topic I think it’s an important one to acknowledge and discuss in certain situations.
As excited as I was to join a swim team I knew I wanted to continue when the season was over, which ended up not being in the cards for a few reasons. I also knew the season was really just a start and I needed to find the next step.
I asked people for advice, people who have been around and faced some of the same challenges, but I didn’t exactly go how I thought.
Before I even made a viable connection, people tried to talk me out of what I had in mind.
It didn’t make sense to me, if the end goal was to create a more inclusive environment what was so bad about my plan?
I showed up to my 1st masters swim practice with extreme caution. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, especially after watching the junior team practice, but I needed to give it a try. I had 1 private session with a coach a few months before and I was still reaping the benefits. If I backed out of a chance at team practices I would regret it.
It was a hard practice but everyone seemed welcoming. I’ve kept a list of goals since I started swimming again. I had been steadily chipped away at them but things stalled, until this practice. I ended up crossing off almost everything else on the list.
Then nearly everyone who encouraged me to seek out other opportunities tried to talk me out of it, even when I didn’t ask for their opinion.
It wasn’t good for me to leave people “who are like me” or “could understand someone like me,” at least according to them.
I understand their concern, at least usually, but what confused me was these comments were coming from people actively working towards more inclusive sports. So, why shouldn’t I join an able-bodied team? Especially if it’s a better fit, in almost every way.
I know there are those out there who feel that I’m betraying “my people” but if the ultimate goal is for people with disabilities to be seen as equals to the able-bodied community so we need to become part of the able-bodied community whenever an ideal situation presents itself.
At least that’s what I think.
I’m not going to say that the change has been seamless. It’s been full of adjustments, not so great practices, and at times downright culture shock.
But I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made the change.
And that’s made me think a lot more about inclusion.
When we see a chance for inclusion we should take it, we need to take it. It doesn’t always come with the betrayal of the disability community, and if we keep seeing it that way then we probably should change our approach.
Inclusion isn’t a one-sided issue, we can’t just stand around and wait for people to include us. We can’t just yell, and bitch, and moan about it either, there has to be some meaningful effort on our part, and it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture either.
Sometimes “just” showing up and seeing what could happen is enough.