There isn’t enough positive feedback that could be said about Café Argentino Restaurant, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. I have had the opportunity to bring my very own special family to dinner many times, and the owners, Cristian and Valerie Herrera, make us feel like family every single one of those times. The food is amazing, and the ambiance, warmth, and welcoming environment are absolutely fantastic.
Special families are put in a tough spot at times, when the need to go out to dinner or engage in any type of social activity arises. Children, youth, or even adults with disabilities don’t always react in very social-appropriate ways when confronted with situations that make them uncomfortable, and many social situations tend to make them uncomfortable. This leads to isolation for their families, which in turn produces a feeling of being disengaged from society. Cristian, Valerie, and the staff at Café Argentino have the tact, loving-kindness, and life experience that can put families at ease. My mother often asks me to bring her and my brother there as she feels absolutely “at home.”
Café Argentino has recently partnered with a non-profit organization, The Bocha Project ( http://www.thebochaproject.org )to help them raise funds for various programs that promote inclusion and inclusive practices around the world. Cristian and Valerie have expressed their desire to make their own workplace more inclusive, as they would like to employ adults with disabilities that are interested in working in the restaurant industry in any capacity. For their progressive and inclusive practices, Our Special Village would like to say Thank You Café Argentino! Keep up the good work!
I was recently talking to a group of people from work, a
group of counselors and former educators, about the Department of Education’s
policy* and efforts on integration and policy change based on this premise. The integration that the department is
targeting relates to efforts in ensuring that students from all socioeconomic
backgrounds, housing status, and disability status are represented in all schools,
and districts without zoning rules are encouraged and programmed to participate
in these efforts more fully, as they are not bound by address rules (zoning
implies that a family’s address determines where the child/children go to
My contention with the term “integration” stems from my
perception on what the term means. I’m a
much bigger proponent of the term “inclusion” as “integration,” in my view,
implies that a group of people (namely students of color, students of low
socioeconomic status, students in shelters or students with disabilities) have
a lesser standing in society and need to be brought into the mainstream, need
to be assimilated by the mainstream, and need to be educated so that they are
up to par, hence, they need to be “integrated.”
The term “inclusion” on the other hand, implies, in my view, that
regardless of the student’s status, the mainstream needs to make the effort to
accept and incorporate those students in all areas of life. Inclusion implies a general character and pertains
to an effort from all involved.
Of course, I have colleagues that work in this arena as
well, who prefer other terminology. Even
the term “inclusion,” for some of them, is not enough to capture the spirit behind
what we are trying to accomplish.
Inclusion, they contend, implies that there is a group of people (people
in temporary housing, people with disabilities, you name it), who have a lower standing
and therefore need to be included. They prefer
terms such as “coexisting” because terms like do not presuppose any particular
standing (higher or lower) within society.
I can clearly see why they take this approach and why they practice
using this terminology.
Do you have any thoughts about these terms? What do they mean to you? What kinds of feelings do they provoke?
What is Inclusion? The online dictionary Merriam Webster lists the fourth definition of this word as “the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.” This is a valid definition and a good start. However, the definition of Inclusion has expanded dramatically in the last few years thanks in part to the activism of families of people with disabilities, and people with disabilities themselves. Under the slogan “nothing about us without us,” people with disabilities and their families have started to create change and expand the meaning of Inclusion to different areas of society.
In New York City, families have organized a march for Disability Pride for the last four years, and one of the main reasons for this march is to bring awareness to the issue of Inclusion. Inclusion ensures that curbs allow for all of us to cross the streets, for traffic lights to announce when it’s time to cross, for signs that include Braille, for menus that include large print, pictures, Braille. This list is by no means exhaustive and continues to grow and we become a more and more inclusive society.
Our responsibility as families is to make sure that we are always on the look-out, that we are agents of change, that we promote Inclusion and inclusive practices and become open-minded to what this means. This may be as simple as letting our child, who has been attending a self-contained class in school, play in the school yard with general education peers and as ground breaking as being a group organizer demanding accessible curbs.
As families, we are uniquely positioned to be agents of change. We are our voices and our children’s voices. Let’s use every possible opportunity to be heard!