I am a priceless soul. For me, the entire world was created.
Jewish tradition teaches me that this is true. What this statement standing alone would miss, however, is that the tradition says that the same thing is true about every single human being ever created. We are all beings of incalculable value, unlimited worth.
Some of that value may be readily apparent, in our economic contributions, our artistic creations, or those acts that we do in service of others, for example. Others may be less tangible, the joy that a family member takes in our presence, or even momentary uplift of a fleeting smile shared with a stranger. Whatever it is, it is uniquely in each of us.
I have begun to speak on the value of the inclusion of people with disabilities in our businesses, our social activities, our communal spaces and are places of worship. My main message is that we do these things not because it is commanded, or even because it is right, but because of the benefits that may flow from a personal, professional, or chance encounter with an individual who has a disability.
It’s very important to me to emphasize that I’m not talking about inspiration, but real, tangible benefits.
In my rush to concretize this idea, I often use personal examples. I speak of my own legal services for my clients, or friendly or rewarding interactions with my friends and communities. I speak of how they have told me that benefited from my presence, and how if their social organization or workplace were not physically and programmatically accessible to me, those interactions would never have happened
An unfortunate side effect of this construct is that the focus on me might be confused with the idea that there’s something special about me or my story which justifies inclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth, and no misunderstanding could be more counterproductive to the real point that I’m trying to teach.
Yes, I have my specific talents and value. But so does literally everybody else. They may have the potential to be the best professional you ever seen, the right person in the right place for a specific position of community leadership, or just, for one particular person it wouldn’t have met them otherwise, the best friend you’d ever had.
The strength of my message is not the specific value that I bring to the table. As a known quantity, that value is pretty accessible to those looking for it. Rather, the key is all of the priceless value, as friends contributors and professionals, lost the greater community when people with disabilities are not included.
I’m privileged to have been granted the speaking ability to deliver this message. I’m privileged that my combination of delivery and examples from my life seems to help to kindle the fire and passion for this type of inclusion in my audiences. This is why I’ve launched a campaign to help bring my message to a broader audience.
And yet, if we focus on my abilities and my story as the reason for inclusion, the discussion has failed before it ever started.
It isn’t about me. If you’re reading this, if you’re hearing me, you know what I represent and you don’t need to practice the proactive inclusion that I proselytize to access me. What you don’t know, and even I don’t know, is what you’re missing in all of the people who never apply for the job, or try to join the club, because they can already see that there is no way in.
It is with the excitement about these millions of unknown potential friends or employees or service providers that I hope to ignite a passion about inclusion. Don’t include to try to get me, include so that you have access to the people that neither of us have met yet, another priceless soul, just like you and me.