Inclusion: A Holistic Way of Living

When we discuss inclusion in the disability sector, we often engage with issues such as accessibility and equal opportunity. We speak of product design, business goals, and legal requirements. However, these topics rest just on the surface of a much deeper pool of considerations because, at its core, inclusion is a mindset that honors the humanity in each and every one of us.

This is among the lessons learned at the Moved By Love Inclusion Retreat, held 11-13 December at Naimisam (the Jiddu Krishnamurti Centre). Located an hour’s drive outside of Hyderabad, Naimisam is a meditation and retreat center and a “space of deep discovery,” according to its caretaker, Aparajita Rao.

Two pages of messy notes from the first day of the retreat, containing sketches of a garden pathway and a circle of participants.
Some scribbled notes and scenes from the first day of the retreat.

The Retreat was led in part by ServiceSpace, a volunteer-run organization that organizes and supports events and movements with two goals: to encourage the innate generosity in people, and to manifest it both within us and in the world around us. This organization has brought to life initiatives like DailyGood (a daily newsletter of good news), Karma Kitchen (a pay-it-forward restaurant), and Moved By Love (a portal devoted to acts of generosity). [1]

In this spirit, the Inclusion Retreat addressed the concept of inclusion from a unique perspective fueled by personal stories of kindness and compassion. The forty participants came from diverse backgrounds: NGOs, the corporate sector, and individuals with disabilities and allies.

Participants seated on floor pillows and chairs arranged in a circle, with a circular flower petal design on the floor in the center.
Seated in the main circle in the Jiddu Krishnamurti Center, listening to presentations and sharing our experiences.

Over three days of discussion, meditation, and collaboration, we learned about each other’s experiences with disability and inclusion. We shared painful histories of disabling accidents and discrimination, followed by optimistic visions for an inclusive future. We embraced failure by entering the “Unknown Zone” in a group blindness simulation, followed by small group discussions of our personal passions. And we confronted difficult questions:

  • In what ways can we give back to society?
  • What scares us about serving others? How can we overcome these fears?
  • How can we support others’ intentions in their work?

These are big questions with myriad answers. Luckily, there were several speakers at the retreat to help us work through the complicated spots:

Suchitra Shenoy: A study of the “business model for compassion”

A page of notes from various speakers, and a sketch of a participant in a wheelchair.
More notes from the retreat, and a sketch of one of the speakers.

On the first day, author and social sector professional Suchitra shared the story of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (also known as Dr. V), a government employee-turned-ophthalmologist. Dr. V’s goal was to eradicate needless blindness for those who need the help the most. He founded Aravind Eye Hospital on a commitment to free high-quality eye care to all. This initiative gave medical jobs and treatment to people from all backgrounds, without discrimination and regardless of their ability to pay. [2]

Using the Aravind model, Suchitra described the need for purpose-driven, replicable business models to share their methods with other organizations—to make them “open-source,” in a sense, so that we can all benefit. The ultimate goal is to move from sympathy (“I feel for you”) through empathy (“I feel with you”) to compassion (“I feel with you and will work to improve your life”).

“How do you build compassion into a system?”

“We must create an ecosystem for compassion within our field.”

“Make it your driving force, surround yourself with people who can help, never stray from that mission.”

Nipun Mehta: Channeling intention and oneness into service

On the second day, ServiceSpace founder Nipun gave an inspiring talk about the role of compassion in a life of service. When aimed with good intentions, our desires to connect with others can have a huge impact on the global service sector. He emphasized the importance of our intention, which drives our goals and methods of achieving them. The intention of oneness with your surroundings creates the setting for gratitude; the intention of oneness with the people around you creates the conditions needed for a very deep connection.

Among his main points, Nipun explained the need for our intentions to manifest through compassionate outlets. A common adage says that everyone is good at something; if we expand our talents outward, we see that everyone can be great at giving. It is time for a shift from market-based dynamics to generosity-based dynamics in our respective industries. We must consider how to move from consumer to contributor. What we can contribute is not set in stone; we can offer our time, attention, and care as easily as we offer our expertise, work experience, and professional connections. As we commit to deeper generosity and compassion in our work, we establish systemic trust in each other, our institutions, and ourselves. This lays the foundation for complete and enduring inclusion in our institutions and industries.

“Modern society is creating multiple forms of underprivilege.”

“We are in a chain of hurt. Hurt people hurt other people; healed people heal other people. We are all disabled, interdependent, hurt.”

“How do we become wounded healers?”

Commitment to kindness

Six participants gathered around a table on a terrace, writing ideas on a large sheet of paper.
Group members hard at work, sharing ideas and visions for an inclusive future.

These three days of deep conversation and mutual vulnerability have given us a renewed commitment to inclusion in our lives. In the field of disability services, this manifests in tangible ways: physical accommodations, equality in hiring practices, improving services to vulnerable communities. But perhaps more importantly, inclusion stems from a personal commitment to kindness and compassion to all.

Working in the development sector requires long-term vision and dedication to the job, but it can wear you down over time. Systemic barriers separating us from our goals of equality can seem insurmountable. But if we consider the basis of our work on a personal level, we can begin to make tangible change from the bottom up.

As I left the Naimisam campus, I felt a sense of relief. Securing work for the millions of Indian youth with disabilities is a complicated long-term mission, but sharing the message of inclusion can happen over an inspiring conversation and a warm hug.

Several participants gathered in a large group hug, turning to face the camera and smiling.
A group hug to end the retreat.

 

This blog post appears in part in an article co-authored by Priya Charry and Priyanka Peeramsetty on the ServiceSpace blogFor more on the retreat experience, read Priyanka’s experience being blind for a day on Medium.

Notes:

[1] ServiceSpace. https://www.servicespace.org/. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

[2] Shenoy, Suchitra. How We Give. NV Lakshmi Foundation, 2016.

Priya is a librarian and artist passionate about connecting people with life-changing knowledge, resources, and experiences. She has a master's degree in library and information science, and has worked in public and academic libraries, archives, and arts institutions. As an undergraduate, she spent a semester in Hyderabad studying Indian literature and culture. Her graduate research includes rural Indian libraries, Indo-Caribbean library systems, digital libraries, and services to underrepresented communities. Prior to the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Priya worked as a reference librarian at the Boston Public Library and as a library and archives assistant at Harvard University. She also volunteered as a youth mentor and has played in a variety of world music ensembles. In her free time she enjoys running, cycling, book and paper arts, and exploring her community through food and music. Priya is motivated by the belief that everyone can benefit from community-driven education and public programming, from the neighborhood to the national level. She is excited to join Youth4Jobs in their newest venture and connect young artists of all abilities to allies and employment.

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