Inclusion and Accessibility For People Living With Disabilities: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

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On April 13, 2012, a group of 75 people representing all levels of the University, in addition to representatives from two other universities, came together to find a unifying direction for Inclusion and Accessibility at Ohio University and to begin an ongoing planning process that would translate that direction into reality. It was a day of dreaming big dreams for a more inclusive and accessible community purposed to welcome all abilities. And, at the conclusion of the gathering, at approximately 4 p.m. with the gathered serving as witnesses, disability impact was put on notice at Ohio University. The notice informed all that no longer would disability impact be allowed to determine the value someone has or limit the opportunities for dreams to come true, whatever they may be while at Ohio University. My name is Darrell Purdy and I was the one who put disability impact on notice not only because I am the assistant director for employee accommodations and campus accessibility, but because I am also a person who was born with significant physical disabilities that have impacted my life for too many years. I was born with a condition called Moebius Sequence and Hanhart Syndrome.

For more than 35 years, I have been involved with the work of inclusion and accessibility and when I learned that a small, thoughtful, committed group of students, faculty and staff were efforting to change the world for those of us living with disabilities by beginning with the Ohio University community, I wanted in on being a part of the effort! As it turned out, I was invited to become part of this effort beginning December 1, 2011. Fueled by President McDavis’ commitment to the full implementation of the American’s with Disabilities Act with a focus of “working toward full accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities,” this small group of committed people dared to dream big dreams of what a fully and seamless inclusive and accessible Ohio University community could look like. Since then, the work of creating a Ohio University community that is inclusive and accessible has been moving forward through the identification of six goals that are serving as the focus for 2013-2014. These goals are: Transformational Leadership, Funding, Universal Design and Assistive Technology, Communication, Inclusion and Assessment. Each of these goals has been assigned a “Change Team” comprised of a small group of people (5 to 12) who have said “yes” to the work of assisting in the fulfillment of that particular goal. Although I can report to you that progress is being made, I also must share that we are only just beginning really.
Recently, someone asked me why the work of inclusion and accessibility was so important to me and why should it be important to others. I offered that about 57 million people in the United States, or 1 in 5 Americans, live with disabilities, and about 38 million or 1 in 10 live with a severe disability. According to the World Health Organization, there are over a billion people in the world who live with some form of disability which translates into 15% of the world’s population. I offered that people living with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world. They consistently have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation, and higher rates of poverty than people living without disabilities. And, by the way, rates of disability onset after birth are increasing due to the world’s population aging and the global increase in chronic health conditions. From the report, “The ADA: 20 Years Later (2010) we learned, “People with disabilities (in the United States) still lag somewhat or far behind people without disabilities on 12 of the 13 key measures of quality of life. (The indicators that were measured include Employment, Poverty, Financial Situation, Education, Access to Healthcare, Access to Mental Health Services, Transportation, Socializing, Going to Restaurants, Attendance at Religious Services, Political Participation, Life Satisfaction, Technology.) And that is why the work of inclusion and accessibility is so important and what has begun at Ohio University is a significant step in moving this work forward!
I believe, even with this news, that the present is filled with many more possibilities than the current reality is presenting for those of us living with disabilities and the future is even brighter. Ohio University is positioning itself to be part of creating that future. But I must share with you that moving the work forward will not be without very difficult challenges. Indeed one of the first challenges that must be reckoned with is that what has been done to move the work of inclusion and accessibility forward has been falling short of creating inclusive and accessible communities for far too many years. It’s clear to many of us who live with disabilities that the work of inclusion and accessibility desperately needs reframing. I am reminded of Joel Barker’s work with paradigms in the “New Business of Paradigms” that speaks to the value paradigms bring as problem solving systems that help frame the world we see and the future we wish to discover and create. Joel also speaks to the value of “Paradigm Shifts” when the rules of the existing paradigm are no longer working and a new set of rules are necessary. The paradigm for the work of inclusion and accessibility has begun its “paradigm shift” and Ohio University has been host to the start of this “paradigm shift!” Hang in there everyone, it’s about to get interesting!
To learn more about the work of inclusion and accessibility at Ohio University contact the Office for Institutional Equity.
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