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Listen, get to know people to build person-centered inclusive culture

May 23, 2022

By considering times in our lives when we felt like we belonged and by listening to other’s experiences, we have the wisdom to create a culture that values and supports people no matter their level of ability.

That was a key message of “Person-Centered Inclusive Culture,” an interactive webinar presented by Interact for Health on May 11. Three people shared their personal stories about access and inclusion, which attendees then discussed in small breakout groups. The webinar was facilitated by Tim Vogt of Starfire Council (pictured).

Carol Combs spoke about her son Grayson, who is 14 and uses a wheelchair. She said for the first eight years of his life, their family was “entrenched in disabilities services.” It was easier not to have to explain that Grayson has a disability and communicates differently.

But about four years ago, the family started to engage more with the community in their hometown of Hamilton. After that, they no longer had to request in advance what Grayson needed because people already knew him, Combs said. For example, a meeting was held in a park rather than an inaccessible building to allow Grayson to participate.

“It has brought so much joy into our life that Grayson is known in the community and that people know him beyond his disability,” Combs said. “It’s helped him find purpose and belonging in our community.”

Beth Whelpdale of the Hearing Speech + Deaf Center shared how she had to persist to get a sign language interpreter provided for her when she attended appointments with her health care provider and meetings of a city of Cincinnati board on which she served.

Once the city funded the interpreters, it provided them not only to meet Whelpdale’s needs but also for emergency meetings, announcements on the news and city council meetings. During the COVID-19 pandemic, “the interpreters on screen with the mayor helped the (deaf) community have access to information that hearing people had,” Whelpdale said. “The city was listening to me. They were trying.”

Diana Mairose of Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services spoke about successfully advocating for a new design for city buses, which had a low section that felt “like riding in a box” and did not allow riders to see out of the bus. She also shared a story about being provided a step stool when presenting at a conference when she could not see over the lectern.

Vogt and webinar attendees identified several themes from the stories and from their own personal reflections:

  • Be proactive so that people can feel valued from the outset—don’t wait for people to come to you.
  • Getting to know people makes a huge difference.
  • If something can’t be changed right away, convey that steps are being taken to fix it.
  • Make sure all staff members are trained and involved.
  • Listen to people’s needs and show kindness.
  • Be willing to shift in a moment to allow everybody to be included.
  • See people as people and not as interruption or inconvenience to the way things were planned.

“We know how to include the people in our family and our friends, and we just know how to do this as human beings but we need to share that wisdom and pick up tips from each other,” Vogt said.

Handout: Resources, tips for building a person-centered inclusive culture 

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