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'Inclusion needs to be considered carefully not imposed'

Stephen Simpson
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The recent controversy stoked by the student union of the University of Manchester, which asked people not to clap, caused all sorts of debate about social inclusion.

On a positive note, it gets people talking about sensory issues and how to be inclusive but it also leads to a dilemma.

The students wanted to do a good thing by asking others to use jazz hands instead of causing distress to those students with sound sensitivity, and they thought they were doing the right thing.

The response by the media on social forums and radio debates has been mixed. Some have said it’s “political correctness gone wrong again’, while others have taken a more considered and informed opinion.

The drive behind the stopping of clapping wasn’t the action itself but one of inclusion. The purpose was to include those students who struggle in the democratic process.

Many autistic people have sensory challenges and would welcome a quieter environment but what the student union failed recognise is that by including one minority group they inadvertently excluded another.

Blind and partially sighted people telephoned talk shows saying that they relied on clapping to point out appreciation. Some people with autism, who do not have sensory issues, took to social media to indicate ‘not in my name’.

There are many people who are of the opinion that those with minority conditions need to fit into society – rather than for society to adapt to them. In this instance, I think that inclusion needed to be considered carefully and not imposed. Often there are compromises to be made.

People with disabilities and differences, such as autism, often struggle to be included in many aspects of society due to issues such as attitudes and unfriendly environments. 

But solutions need to be practical and fair. At the University of Manchester, one solution might have been to have two sections in an audience – one clapping and one using jazz hands – to accommodate all. Let the people chose.

A video from the National Autistic Society, Can you make it to the end?, highlights how difficult it can be for people with hypersensitivities.

If you are motivated for inclusion then there are compromises, but the benefits are huge for the person and for society itself. The positives of including autistic people in society need to be highlighted.

Harriet Cannon, disability advisory team manager and autism specialist at the University of Leeds has looked at these and produced a bookmark to remind others of these strengths. These include an increase in attention to detail; deep focus; observational skills; absorbing and retaining facts; visual skills; expertise; integrity; and methodological and unique approaches.

She goes on to state “Every experience of autism is unique. No one person will identify with every positive feature of autism. We all have individual skills, attributes and characteristics that are as unique as our personalities – this is the power of neurodiversity.”

Do we want autistic people included? The moral dilemma often is what will you give for a more inclusive world?

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