KIT Offers Free Inclusion Training for San Diego Women’s Group who Excluded Teen with Disability

Kids Included Together is offering free training to the San Diego chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). When we learned that they recently chose to exclude Devyn Solo, 13, who was born with cystic fibrosis, from their STEM summer camp, we felt a call to action. This is exactly why we exist – to help support camps in serving kids with diverse needs.

“We want to help teach groups like AAUW, who may be uncomfortable about how to provide accommodations for children with disabilities in their program, to see how simple it can be to include all children,” said KIT’s CEO Torrie Dunlap (who wrote a guest blog post here in May). “We know everyone starts at a different place with inclusion, so we meet people where they are and teach them how to comply with federal laws and be welcoming to every family.”

We often meet camp directors and staff who love all kids and want to provide them with an amazing camp experience, but they are intimidated by inclusion. If staff do not have the tools they need to support kids with disabilities, it can seem overwhelming. What we do is empower their staff and volunteers with practical strategies and easy accommodations to help them feel comfortable serving all kids. When we heard about Devyn’s experience, we reached out to the AAUW in San Diego to offer our help and to prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future. Inclusion benefits everyone, and we hope that someday, all camps will feel confident in their ability to include all kids.

KIT offers camps the following tips for working with children with and without disabilities in summer camps:

1. Provide ongoing staff training on how to include campers and interested campers with disabilities.

2. Partner with families to understand the child’s goals for participation and the specific accommodations that will need to be made.

3. Provide alternative forms of communication when necessary (example, using visual schedules for children with limited verbal language).

4. Understand that modeling and repetition may be necessary for campers to participate successfully, or that you may need to shorten or lengthen the time given to an activity.

5. Allow frequent breaks for reasons that may include:

  •  medication management
  • restroom use
  • hydration and nutrition
  • fatigue

According to Torrie, “Often times all it takes is a simple accommodation to make sure everyone can attend camp. KIT exists because we believe everyone benefits when all kids are included. We can help summer programs understand what it takes to comply with state and federal mandates and most importantly, include all kids in their programs.”

–Written by KIT staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

August Advo-KIT of the Month: Barbara “Sundy” Smith

KIT loves hearing stories about people all over the world who are fighting for inclusion in their communities. Each month, we recognize one person who stands out as an inclusion Advo-KIT.

This month we are recognizing Barbara “Sundy” Smith from
The Farm Institute in Massachusetts!

sundysmith Sundy was nominated by KIT Trainer & Consultant, Kat King, who says the following about Sundy Smith:

“Sundy is always looking for new and creative ways to support the children in her programs. When we first talked, she was sharing how unique and challenging combining a working farm and children is in general. The safety hazards of farm equipment, electric fences, [and] large animals can be risky, but some of her campers have added behavior challenges such as running away and aggression. Instead of being more rigid with participant requirements, the Farm Institute is often considered more willing to work with a child than other summer programs on the island.”

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion? 

“I came from a family where civil rights was both talked about and practiced as part of daily life. My next door neighbor and close friend when I was growing up had a younger brother with cerebral palsy, and we included him in everything, without knowing it was “inclusion.” This was in the 1950′s, and the mother was one of those quiet heroines who insisted her son go to public school. These people basically created special education. It’s important to remember what that generation did for all of us.”

What do you love about inclusion? 

“My job now is not really focused on disability issues or special education. The mission of The Farm Institute is ‘to connect people of all ages and all circumstances to the science, work, and practical magic of agriculture and illuminate the trail that leads from farm to food.‘ We have become disconnected from agriculture and understanding where our food comes from for many reasons. Disability is just one of those circumstances where we need to make sure our doors are open, both physically and programmatically.”

What is your vision for an inclusive world? 

“The best predictor of life outcomes for a child with a disability–and for all our children, as it turns out–is the income and education of the parents. An inclusive world is where we, as a nation, address the impact of that most disabling circumstance…poverty.”

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences? 

“Well…it’s a very farm-to-table story, and perhaps not for vegetarians or the squeamish. But about a month ago, we had eight AmeriCorps volunteers working at the farm. We also had twenty high school students visiting from a charter school and about twenty students with hearing impairments from a nearby school. The AmeriCorps volunteers and most of the visiting students wanted to watch and help with chicken processing. I looked over as the kids worked on the feathers and explored the anatomy of a chicken, the farm staff explained what was going on, and two sign language interpreters assisted. It was quite a scene. I was very proud of the farm staff for their farm knowledge and their instincts for how to make this ‘teaching moment’ accessible to all.”

What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?

“The golden rule is all-powerful. What would you want from a teacher or camp counselor or other worker if you, your child, or other loved one had a disability?”

Thank you Sundy for everything that you do for the children and staff at The Farm Institute! Thank you for letting us be a part of your inclusion story!

“We’ll Be Friends Forever, Won’t We, Pooh?”

The following post was written by Amy Wright, mother of four children, two of whom have Down Syndrome. Amy writes a blog called It Starts With a  Voice, where she shares stories about her children, along with airing original songs to advocate for inclusion. One story in particular really stuck out to us. well be friends forever wont we pooh

A few weeks ago, I received the most wonderful voicemail message.  It wasn’t what was said in the message that brought my tears of joy, but rather the voice on the other end of the line.  The caller was one of Beau’s school buddies, John Daniel.

By the time most children are 8 years old, they’ve gone on numerous play dates, been invited to countless birthday parties, and even experienced a few sleep-overs.   Over the years, I remember taking my older girls to one party after another, all the while longing for a quiet Saturday afternoon.  And yet, with Beau, most Saturday afternoons are quiet.

With Beau, the world moves a little slower, which can make play dates, birthday parties, and sleepovers a little more challenging.  And while Beau has been blessed with many good friends who have included him in various ways, he has never really had a friend who moves at his pace…until now.

John Daniel is a special little boy with loads of personality, compassion, and curiosity.  A few years older than Beau, he looks out for him like a big brother, encouraging him to try new things and reminding him to follow the rules.  And as a result of John Daniel’s courage to pick up the phone a few weeks ago, Beau and his buddy finally had their play date.

Today, on a playground, surrounded by children running much faster and climbing much higher, I witnessed a friendship being born.  A friendship based upon the mutual admiration two little boys have for each other and their ability to tune out the world to solely focus on one another.   In this fast-paced world where we text our friends more than we share face-to-face conversations, I was reminded of what friendship is all about…

“‘We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.  ‘Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”
–A.A.Milne

In this story, Amy writes about a day when both John Daniel and Beau demonstrated inclusion.  John Daniel got just as much out of this friendship as Beau did. The beauty of inclusion is that all participants see the value of diversity, learning from people with unique talents and needs. Thank you, Amy, for sharing this beautiful story with us! Keep advocating for inclusion!

–Written by Amy Wright, author of It Starts With a Voice. Commentary by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Community Integration Act calls for Inclusion of Adults with Disabilities

For most of us, inclusion in our schools and recreational programs is highly important. We see the potential social effects for children with and without disabilities. We build communities where children value diversity and want to learn about each other’s differences. Students learn from each other, and they are more willing to recognize that every one of them has specific strengths and weaknesses. But once these children grow up, where do they go? What inclusive opportunities are there for them through adulthood? Unfortunately, not as many as we would like. Though there is a demand to continue services and supports in inclusive environments, inclusion is difficult to find for adults with disabilities. Many individuals with disabilities do not live in their own homes or in community-based settings. They instead live in nursing homes, where they receive institutionalized care.

For adults with disabilities, a turn towards inclusive services and supports may be coming soon! For many years,  Medicaid has preferred to provide coverage of nursing home placements over community-based home placements for adults with disabilities. The lack of ability for individuals to choose their living situation has become apparent through a report developed by a committee in the Senate, led by Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA).

Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA), www.mcknights.com

Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA), www.mcknights.com

Senator Harkin has proposed a new bill which would really change the availability of different housing options for adults with disabilities. The Community Integration Act, Harkin’s proposal, would remove Medicaid’s bias toward institutions or nursing homes when community-based settings are equally, if not more, appropriate.

Currently, Medicaid offers more funding for nursing homes and other institutionalized living settings than community-based care for adults with disabilities. About a year ago, Senator Harkin published a report that stated that over 200,000 working-age adults were being segregated in nursing homes. Fifteen years ago, Senator Harkin reminds us, a case called Olmstead v. L.C. led to a Supreme Court decision that, under ADA, individuals with disabilities and their families have the right to receive services in home or within the community instead of institutional care. The findings of Senator Harkin’s report served to prove that states are not fully providing people with their right to choose. The Community Integration Act would provide adults with disabilities more options to receive their support in places more natural to them– their homes and communities.

A lot of work has already been done to include individuals with disabilities in their communities, and they are encouraged to work within certain organizations. However, the full vision is not yet complete. Someday, adults with disabilities will be employed, and they will participate in their community regularly. Each individual’s job experience will vary on their unique interests and needs, but their work will provide a service or product for others and will hopefully be a viable source of income. Additionally, they will engage in their communities in some way. Many adults find purpose through religious groups, community service opportunities, fitness classes or clubs, and continuing education opportunities like cooking classes.

If we want to build an adult community and workforce that is inclusive, though, we need to prepare typically developing children to grow into roles as accepting adults who celebrate differences. These little people will be the business owners, managers, and community leaders who run our communities. If we want communities to be truly inclusive, these future leaders are the ones who will need to be willing to invite adults with disabilities into their community activities and employ them in their businesses. The earlier these leaders learn inclusion, the more they will value people of differing backgrounds and abilities.

Inclusion from an early age serves a valid purpose for children who are typically developing. Tolerance is not the only thing these children learn. They also appreciate the benefits to themselves when they are in diverse settings. If children are taught to value diversity from early on, they will likely continue to value diversity as they grow older, collaborating with each other and individuals of varying abilities to create and maintain a truly inclusive society.

The way I envision an inclusive adult community is one where adults with disabilities participate in regular activities with typically-developing people. These activities may include grocery shopping, fitness, and community service acts. In order to get to this vision of inclusion, we must prepare all of our students. Let’s work together to build mindsets of understanding and appreciation of all kinds of people!

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor.

More information on the Community Integration Act can be found here, here, and here.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

A Parent’s Perspective on Inclusion

Many people may not fully understand the importance of an inclusive environment. Inclusion is not about being politically correct. “Inclusion is how you live your life every day and every minute. It’s a way of living – a way of thinking, believing, planning and acting.” Jeffrey Strully

debra_sweeting_inclusionI personally feel that having an inclusive educational environment has positive benefits for students with and without disabilities. My daughter, Alana (pictured in the above Inclusion cover), just started kindergarten at Eagle Ridge Elementary. Alana attends the school that she is zoned to attend and is in the least restrictive environment, where she can interact, communicate and develop natural friendships with children from her own community. This environment allows her to receive an education that meets her personal needs. Alana’s teacher, Mrs. Richards, and other staff have the training to integrate teaching practices, such as communication strategies and hands-on learning experiences, that have been shown to improve academic achievements for students again and again.

After Alana’s primary school day has ended, she attends the Kiddie Academy for after-school care, where Alana is in a classroom with typical children. This is where real magic happens! Children at this age don’t care about their differences, they just want to play with one another. Alana’s teacher, Ms. Jo, has first-hand experience teaching in an inclusive environment because she is both an educator and a mother of a child with autism. More importantly, she has the love, patience, and understanding to guide Alana. That is what all children need.

The importance of putting Alana in an inclusive environment is that she can see, hear, imitate and interact with typical children in her class. She knows that she is expected to do everything that they are expected to do. These natural environments allow all children to develop an understanding that everyone is different in some way. Children can gain social and emotional benefits, communication skills, and the opportunity to develop organic friendships. I feel strongly that if there were a greater acceptance of the differences of others, we would not have so many issues regarding bullying in the school system that we see in the news today.

A mother's dreamThe ultimate dream for a parent of a child with special needs is to mainstream them. The reality is that children with disabilities grow up and want to have careers, live and function independently, and have full, rich, high-quality lifestyles, just like everyone else. Without exposure to life outside of the disability community, the reality of life after high school might be very difficult. This is why I have embraced the use of “Person First” language. This language puts the person first before their disability. My daughter is a child with Down syndrome, but that is not who she is. She is a beautiful, smart, loving little girl who has hopes and dreams to do great things with her life, just like everyone else.

“No special needs. Needs are the same as everyone else, to thrive and belong.” George Estreich

-Written by Debra Sweeting, edited by KIT staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & afterschool programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.