It Takes a Village to Achieve Inclusive Prosperity in the District of Columbia

On March 7, 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled the District of Columbia’s Economic Strategy for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018. In the press release for this plan, Mayor Bowser stated,

“I am proud to share our new economic strategy, one that reflects DC’s values and helps ensure all Washingtonians share in our continued prosperity…Every day, we are showcasing how Washington, DC’s diverse and innovative community is driving our economy. I am confident that this framework will accelerate our progress as a leader for inclusive prosperity by creating opportunities that are accessible to all, supporting longtime businesses and residents, and benefitting our most disadvantaged communities.”

With this in mind, the Inclusive Prosperity Coalition promotes the educational rights children with disabilities in the District of Columbia as deserving of free appropriate public education (FAPE), as protected by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA). Prior to the IDEA, over 4 million children with disabilities in the United States were denied appropriate access to public education – many of whom were denied entry into public schools altogether, while others were place in segregated classrooms, or in regular classrooms without adequate support for their special needs (Katsiyannis, Yell, Bradley, 2001; Martin, Martin, Terman, 1996; US Department of Education ,2010; American Psychological Association, 2017).

If, in fact, the children are the future then it is imperative that concept of inclusion be framed in the context of social justice and equitable access to things available to all citizens.  To this end, it is important to define the “inclusion”.

Inclusion is a process in which persons with disabilities or special health care needs are actively participating in recreation, social, educational and developmental opportunities along with peers without disabilities through:

  • Providing opportunities for choice
  • Providing necessary support to ensure recreation is fun and matches skills with challenge
  • Creating environments for meaningful engagement
  • Not a one-time event or separate service
  • Process of learning, preparing, experiencing and growth with each person in each recreation opportunity

When it comes to education, inclusion is protected by Federal and District law.  Unfortunately, even with existing statute, there are many cultural barriers that prevent individuals, organizations and even policy makers in government agencies (including and especially the public school system) from actualizing these legislative guidelines protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities.  There are many unconscious biases that prevent people from doing what’s right and necessary to promote the best interest of individuals, particularly children, with disabilities.

To this end, a key part of successful advocacy for the rights of children with disabilities is education through cultural competency training.  It is trough these sorts of training that transformation can take place inside and outside the political process of budgets, policies and legislation.

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