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Heads Up for Inclusion promotes and encourages connections leading to the development of permanency in relationships, so any individual facing barriers to inclusion can participate more fully in the life of their community (Peterborough City and County).
Heads Up for Inclusion seeks to encourage full and meaningful community participation and belonging of any individual facing barriers to inclusion.
The idea for this high school inclusion project began in the year 2000 when I saw my son Paul walking down the hall of his high school. He was hanging off the arm of an Educational Assistant and another student from his class was hanging off her other arm. Paul was behaving well below his level of ability. As I watched him, I thought to myself: “If another student asked you to walk with them to the cafeteria, you would straighten up and walk down the hall just like every other student.”
That was the beginning. I realized that we needed to tap into the wonderful resource within our high schools: other students. I believed if students in mainstream classes got to know their peers in LLS classes, they could become the agents for change.
We started with the idea of mainstream students assisting with transition planning for students with disabilities. Two schools in Peterborough, Kenner and Thomas A. Stewart, were excited about the possibilities of students learning from one another. There was just one hitch: I didn’t have any funding. I tried a number of sources but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
By this time it was January 2001, and I was feeling discouraged. So I did what I often do; I put the leashes on the dogs and went for a walk down the country road near our home. As I walked I found myself looking down at the ditch and focusing on the things that people had thrown out of their car windows: cigarette packages, food wrappers, wine and liquor bottles and other such disgusting items. I finally said to myself, “Lucinda, quit looking at other people’s garbage. Get your head up!” At that moment, as I lifted my head, I saw a hawk soaring in the field beside me. It flew across the field and then lit on a telephone pole. I paused. It was a “light bulb moment” – when you lift your head, you are open to all the possibilities that exist all around you.
By the time I got home, I thought about what we look like when we have our head down: it is often a reflection of not feeling very good about ourselves. When you ask someone to lift their head, their chest and heart lifts too. And when you give someone a “heads up” you are giving them advance information about what is coming up. The name Heads Up for Inclusion was born.
Since those early days, Heads Up for Inclusion has grown from students as peer advisors, to having co – op students as mentors, to the Amigos project we have today. Initially, I thought that mainstream students would help their peers with disabilities develop their communication and social skills. It wasn’t long before I realized that the communication and social skills of all students was increasing. Not only that, students in segregated classes were seen in the presence of other students, not just adults, as they moved through the hallways and participated in the life of their schools. And relationships were developing. Students were sending an important message to everyone in their schools: you don’t have to be afraid of people who are different.
Heads Up for Inclusion may have started by opening up possibilities for students with disabilities, but it can be so much more than that. As one student so aptly put it recently, “I am now more open to talking to others – to anyone.”
Heads Up for Inclusion fosters the development of relationships between people of diverse abilities which increases opportunities for young people with intellectual disabilities to belong to their school and their community.
Inclusion is more than physical proximity. The Amigos program intentionally promotes connections between young people with and without disabilities in order to share common interests, engage in meaningful activities and develop friendships.
The research is clear. Relationships contribute to happiness, healthfulness and longevity. The more friends a person has the better their life is in terms of jobs, housing, health, transportation and opportunities. (A. Condeluci)
Relationships are formed on the basis of equality and with the understanding that Amigos learn from one another. Amigos are not referred to as volunteers.
Amigos find out what makes their partner ‘shine’ and build relationships based on interests, strengths, abilities and capacity which strengthens everyone’s skills. Amigos participate in age appropriate activities and celebrate regularly.
We believe a person with an intellectual disability is to be included in any conversation concerning them and in the adage: “Nothing about me without me”. We use ‘people first’ language which emphasizes the person rather than the disability.
Our high schools and communities become stronger when a person with a disability is invited ‘in’ and included in a social group, educational opportunity, community group or leisure activity where their gifts can be appreciated.
Heads Up for Inclusion believes in the power of relationships to change the lives of young people with intellectual disabilities and the lives of those they touch.