Growing up, I often felt like an outsider in my small town. My beliefs were very different from those around me, and because of that I found it easier to listen rather than to speak. I opted to observe from the sidelines and learn from the people around me. I saw family members struggle because the world was built in a way that did not consider their physical limitations. I saw classmates treated like outcasts because they did not fit in to the socially accepted norms of the larger group. I realized that many people felt excluded, and although that always bothered me, I didn’t think that I could make a difference.
In 2005, my daughter was born premature. She struggled for many years with respiratory and immunity issues, which dictated much of what she could and could not do. While most kids were playing outside, swimming, and riding their bikes, my daughter was inside reading, writing, and painting. Seeing the impact my daughter’s physical condition had on the direction of her life was a constant reminder that the little I know of others is just the surface of a whole life of experiences that make them who they are. Every time I get to know someone, I gain knowledge and perspective that I would not have acquired on my own.
For me, inclusion means appreciating and respecting what makes each of us different, and to being empathetic to the struggles that we cannot understand through our own personal experiences. We all have very different backgrounds that make us unique. I believe that we all benefit when we understand that those things that make us different are what make us collectively stronger.