One of the most important steps to achieving full inclusion for individuals with disabilities is to ensure that children are included and accepted by their peers. The Arc of Summit and Portage Counties in Ohio has made it a priority to educate and sensitize children and community members toward people who have disabilities through a program called “People Together”.
People Together is an in-school disability awareness program that was started back in 1983 and is funded in part by the local Summit and Portage County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. The main goal of the program is to educate and sensitize students and community members toward people who have various disabilities in an effort to foster understanding, acceptance, communication, friendship and inclusion between people with and people without disabilities. The program has not only helped children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) be better understood and accepted by their peers, it has also helped students without disabilities to have a better understanding and openness toward people with disabilities. Teachers, parents and students have all benefited from this unique program.
One teacher shared a story about how after participating in People Together with her class, a student was comfortable enough to get up in front of his classmates and share that he had autism. He proceeded to explain what that meant, and how certain things are different or more difficult for him. Not only was the teacher amazed at the student’s level of comfort speaking to his peers, but also with how much his openness impacted everyone in the class.
Another teacher expressed how much of an impact the program had made on her entire class. As soon as the program ended, the calendar was filled with students who were eager to volunteer with the special education class in that school. There was no obligation for the students to volunteer; there was just a desire among the majority of them. The students who did not have disabilities spent their recess time reading and playing games with students who did.