Communities, Belonging, and Authentic Inclusion

May 07, 2013
Tagged with: Communities, Belonging, and Authentic Inclusion



Regardless of whether a person has a disability or not, we all want to connect.  We all want to have a ‘place’ where we belong.  When I refer to the concept of place, I do not mean the bricks and mortar of a building.  I did not join the Fitness Center I go to because of the physical space or equipment.  I joined because from the first day I walked through the door, I was treated as a member of the larger group.  Community in the broadest terms creates a sense of belonging for members of a group.[i] 

When you consider it, all of us, regardless of disability, are members of small groups or communities including where we work, where we play, and in general where we live.  In the context of inclusion, I am defining community as a place where people are brought together by a common interest.  People share values including commitment, mutuality, and expectancy.

As a member of the Fitness Center, I am an active participant, and involved with 600 other members.  We all go through the Fitness Center doors to workout; improve our health, and overall wellness.  After seven years of trying to learn to walk without assistive devices, I am now known by name by at least half of the members.

I have read numerous articles about inclusion as a philosophy.   In the articles, inclusion is categorized as people with and without disabilities receiving appropriate supports in a common space.[ii]

Authentic Inclusion is not just about space, the built environment, or allowing people through the door.  It is not just about people interacting together.  Authentic inclusion is a complex dynamic which builds community in a very proactive way.

I have a concept of inclusion that I have applied in my own life.  To me, inclusion is active participation in age-appropriate activities.  Inclusion in practice means that I am a part of a larger group, contributing, and interacting with diverse members.   Regardless of the diagnosis of Spastic Cerebral Palsy, I become a member of a community—a larger group with similar goals.  Authentic inclusion means I am embraced and accepted based on my contributions in a larger group.

The Fitness Center staff were central to building that sense of community— fostering the idea and the feeling that I, Kerry Wiley, was welcomed and belonged in this space, just like every other person. Staff served as the connectors to the other members.  I was introduced by name.

“Sally, I would like you to meet Kerry.  Kerry came to us to improve her health and mobility”.   Through an informal but deliberate process, I was brought into the mission and the culture of the ‘space’. I was oriented to the vision, goals, and common practices of the group and the Fitness Center— supporting and developing a healthy lifestyle.

The staff became the forecasters – seeing the potential for growth of their newest member.  They saw beyond the short-term impediments of Spastic Cerebral Palsy.  Authentic Inclusion for me grew when my notions of what I could or could not do were challenged.

“Why can’t you walk without devices Kerry?”  Fitness Center staff inquired when I first arrived.  Initially, I did not have the vision or certainty that I could walk without assistive devices full-time. Staff and the other members at the Fitness Center taught me to think in broader teams.  It was not just me on my own anymore.  There was a broader “we”.    In future blog columns, I will continue to explore the components community, belonging, and Authentic Inclusion.  What does Authentic Inclusion mean to you?




[i] Crow, G. and Allan, G. (1994) Community Life. An introduction to local social relations, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

[ii] Place, K., & Hodge, S. R. (2001). Social inclusion of students with physical disabilities in general physical education: A behavioral analysis. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 18(4), 389-404.

Author: Kerry

  • RMT

    You are very fortunate to have so many inclusive communities where you feel totally accepted. I wish I could say that is the norm, but unfortunately, many still feel incomfortable with difference. Your writing gives us all hope!

  • Kerry Wiley

    I think authentic inclusion and creating a sense of community starts with the facility management and front line staff. Management and staff made me want to come back to the Fitness Center. I was more willing to become a long-term customer when I heard–
    “We will work with you to accommodate your needs. How can we help?” Management and staff saw me as a customer first.

    A willingness to collaborate and accommodate individual needs creates authentic inclusion as well as a loyal customer.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Kerry A. Wiley