(article written for Next Step 2014: Using Sport for Good Sport for Development Conference)
One way to think about inclusion is as a process, a journey, going from exclusion to inclusion. Another way to think about it is going from invisibility to inVisibility.
The inclusion process is all about building relationships and breaking down perceived barriers, stereotypes and preconceptions. Invisibility or exclusion means to be ignored, isolated, overlooked, and to exist on the sidelines, never part of the team but abandoned to the margins. Invisibility is not warm and welcoming. Exclusion is not safe and secure. Excluded persons or groups feel neither accepted nor supported in their environment. Exclusion and invisibility often occur because of disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious background.
The transition from exclusion to inclusion involves awareness and education. Opening the door to create inclusion means a willingness to learn and grow, a willingness to create visibility where there was once invisibility. The journey away from exclusion means opening our minds to conversation and dialogue, seeing inclusion as opportunity and strength, rather than weakness and limitation. This stage of the inclusion journey brings attention to the excluded individual or group. Initially, uncertainty and then discovery take place when marginalized individuals and groups begin to integrate. There is an attention to exposure and figuring out the best ways to navigate, engage and adapt to the environment.
InVisibility happens when there are seamless interactions, trust and communication between the individual or group and the environment. Adaptation happens quietly, with no fanfare, as a normal part of the human experience. InVisibility allows for complete acceptance such that a person or a group can simply exist and be a valued part of a community, free of stigma, fear, or isolation. Experiencing full inclusion is the ultimate feeling of respect and dignity, based on sincere building of relationships between people and groups. While there has been progress toward inclusion on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, and disability status, there is still much further to go in reaching inVisibility for all.
The journey from invisibility to inVisibility is challenging yet rewarding and is an important part of human development and the social change process. The inclusion process is a way to understand and design the human environment and consider the value and contributions of all people and groups in a community. It is a way to reflect on how we see difference and how we measure and bring attention to our own preconceptions. Hopefully we can all move toward a community of inVisibility where we can respect, trust and understand one another.
Eli Wolff is program director of the Sport and Development Project at Brown University and also directs the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design.
Dr. Mary Hums is Professor of Sport Administration at the University of Louisville and Research Fellow with the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design.