With all my heart, I believe that creating an accessible and inclusive community is rooted in the commitment of everyday ordinary people. By commitment, I’m not talking about a half-baked, politically correct buy-in. I’m talking about following through on a decision to bring about change that turns possibilities into reality. Leadership expert Ken Blanchard says, “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it is convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”
Some of the people I meet are “interested” in creating a more accessible and inclusive world, but they usually believe it’s someone else’s responsibility to make it happen. Fortunately, many more “get it”: they realize their community or workplace will be better only if they themselves commit to making it happen. These leaders, large and small, come from all parts of the community, and I’ve had the good fortune to meet or hear about a number of them. There are, for example, the Choosin’ Inclusion school teams in the Avon Maitland District School Board that are undertaking activities in their schools to ensure every student belongs. There are also the students at St. Emily’s Catholic Elementary School in Woodbridge, Ontario, who have pledged their commitment to creating inclusive school communities by joining the Inclusive Community Ambassador Network (ICAN), a student-led initiative in a number of schools across the York Catholic District School Board. As ICAN ambassadors these students become vocal advocates for anti-bullying or help other students resolve differences through restorative practices or undertake other projects to promote inclusion.
It’s not just students who are demonstrating their commitment to inclusion. In the retail world there’s the Lowe’s Store in Regina, Saskatchewan, that recently hired a man who was having difficulty finding employment because he has a brain injury and a service dog. The store manager found the perfect position for the man as a customer greeter and even had a vest custom-made for his service dog. In Toronto there’s the Starbucks that harnessed the abilities of one employee to create a memorable customer service experience. The manager encouraged the teenage employee, who has autism, to use dance to channel the sudden movements caused by his disorder and help him focus. His dancing is a big hit with the customers – and incidentally draws in new ones.
The one thing all these leaders have in common is that they have embraced an opportunity and made a difference through their commitment to take action.
There are ways each of us can create more inclusive and accessible neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and communities. Our success will depend on whether we are “interested” or “committed”… There is a difference.