Guest Blog

Belonging: Building Inclusive Communities in Our Own Backyards

04 May 2016 by Kathleen Cail

From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by KATHLEEN CAIL, Managing Director of LivABLE Cincinnati, and past Chair of the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival .–Ed.

Today, there is extensive research which supports the idea that human relationships are the key to living a healthy and happy life. Those who are marginalized are often the most lonely and invisible people in a community. Whether you are marginalized by race, ability, age, etc., it feels the same. You feel left out–that you don’t belong.

Marginalizing begins early. Sometimes it is good intentions gone awry, like students who require “special education.” In most schools, students with disabilities spend their day in a classroom, which doesn’t seem to exist to those who aren’t in it. I spoke with a high school student and she said, “I see ‘those’ kids get off the bus, but I don’t know where they go.”

Sometimes marginalization occurs because we are focused on the best and the brightest. Achievement seems so narrowly defined and this in itself marginalizes. Aren’t we all capable of growing and learning? I heard an interview with an educational researcher who concluded that Japanese schools see students as having potential, while the American education system views students as “being smart or not.” Sports teams, theater groups, etc. are other examples of those areas where students are expected to come already gifted. How will students have the chance to learn, practice and improve if within their own school communities, they are “cut”?

I spoke with a high school student and she said, “I see ‘those’ kids get off the bus, but I don’t know where they go.”

Then there is social marginalization based on difference. Beginning in middle school, all the way through college, students are worried about fitting in and belonging. Those who don’t are ignored or bullied. Often this behavior is excused by adults as “developmental.” Yes, it is, but are there not teaching moments here? Think of all the things kids wouldn’t learn if we just said “Oh. That’s developmental” and left it at that. We think that our children will grow out of this and learn to be welcoming and inclusive adults. However, look at the adults in their lives thus far. Adults are the parents, teachers, directors, and coaches who marginalize, without realizing it. How are students going to learn to become welcoming adults? How will they become community members who bring individuals on the fringes into the center? How will they become employers who recognize the gifts of all abilities?

Perhaps the focus on “community service” could change to “community building” right in our own backyards and playgrounds.

Perhaps learning to build community can begin earlier and in our families and schools. Perhaps the discussions around bullying could be discussions about how much better and healthier it is to include everyone. Perhaps the discussion could be about each individual’s responsibility it is to include. Perhaps it is around the numerous opportunities we all have to build a community that meaningfully includes everyone. Perhaps the focus on “community service” could change to “community building” right in our own backyards and playgrounds.


Kathleen Cail

Kathleen Cail is a mother, consultant, and advocate who spent years in the for-profit arena, working for Nielsen and Kraft Foods. After having a daughter, born with a neuromuscular diagnosis, Kathleen began working to create meaningful inclusion that would foster community based social opportunities for people who experience developmental disabilities. In 2011, Kathleen worked with Cincinnati Museum Center, Children’s Hospital, and Starfire to bring the Positive Exposure, The Spirit of Difference exhibition to Cincinnati. securing lectures at Children’s Hospital Grand Rounds, Dept. of Human Genetics, and the Dept. of OT/PT/RT, U.C. Medical School, Dayton Children’s Hospital, and Museum Center; as well as The Ohio State University Nisonger Center and COSI in Columbus. Kathleen is on the boards of Starfire and Jason’s Connection.