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How Play is Changing Our Relationship With Inclusion

Inclusion is not just physical accessibility like ramps in walkways; it is cognitive, social, and emotional.

can look through a thousand photos, or show you a picture of our work, but here is the truth, inclusion cannot be captured in a photo of what we feel when we are in play. The relationship with both is personal and vital. Every person has a relationship to inclusion; and there are as many definitions of the concept as there are ways to provide it. If you have ever been invited or not invited to an event, welcomed by strangers in a new space, worked in groups, taken any form of education or training, you have a relationship with inclusion. The relationship may be very positive, something you remember fondly, or it may be negative, something that makes you hesitant to return. An essential part of becoming more inclusive is to start where you are. Often, we see organizations, educators, and leaders try to start where they want to be instead of where they are. When you start where you want to be, it often creates barriers to building inclusive spaces and adopting a more inclusive mindset. We hear about the complicated changes, ineffective processes, high rates of employee burnout, and declining participant satisfaction, all related to attempts to be more inclusive. Expectation leads us to fast track the process and often results in low quality, unauthentic, and unsustainable change. The idea that inclusion has a finish line or a defined list of checkboxes that once ticked results in “perfect inclusion” is not reality. Inclusion is a feeling, it is personal, and it is as ever-changing as our life process. What feels inclusive today may not be inclusive a year from now. It is easy to take photos of inclusive moments, but this is just window dressing for changing the way people experience authentic inclusion. We often shame organizations, services, products, and people for not being more inclusive, which does not move people toward inclusion but away from feeling shamed by the undefinable process. Human beings are shame adverse, and “shame derives its power from being unspeakable” (Brown, B., 2013, p.62). It is not hard to recognize why diversity and inclusion continue to cause some people anxiety; we do not want to look unprepared, unqualified, or uninformed. We race to be where we want to be vs. where we are. Inclusion is a journey, not a finish line. Play invites us to change our relationship with inclusion by creating an opportunity for discovery, renewed curiosity in difference, risk and failure without judgment, and new and diverse ways of thinking. Like anything worth doing, inclusion takes practice and experience. Inclusion is not just physical accessibility like ramps in walkways; it is cognitive, social, and emotional. Consider anything you have learned as a lifelong skill. Did you run before you walked? Did you start to swim in the deep end of the pool? All of those tasks required physical, cognitive, and social, and emotional engagement to learn and develop. Inclusion is not different; the process and practice improve the outcome (product). The “start where you are process” begins with finding a play space where everyone can physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally access the play. There is an ability to explore, create, navigate without set parameters of “how.” Without the weight of expectation, players direct their own path and process. They build and rebuild, do and undo, and often surprise themselves and others by what they are capable of. Play is an inclusive, multigenerational, and collective process. People in play explore, risk, discover, fail, commit, and develop physically, cognitively, socially / emotionally, and collectively. Play invites us to decide, initiate, change, bend, invent, solve problems, cooperate, listen, and engage. Like inclusion, we all have a connection to play; even if that connection is an apprehension that it is unproductive or just for kids, we have a relationship to it. We see play as an opportunity to communicate our strengths and expand our ability to hold a broader frame of reference for ourselves and others’ potential. Brené Brown (2012). “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, p.62, Penguin

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