Why Inclusion is Important: Emily’s Story
By Emily Ouimet
When I was about 4 and in preschool, I remember my mom being told that I was non-social, always ‘doing my own thing’, and that the teacher thought I had autism, which was not the case. But that stood out in my head most for most of my life as it made me feel ‘different’ from my peers.
I remember not really processing much in kindergarten. In grade one I couldn’t really understand what I was learning, and I remember the teacher telling my mom that I wasn’t doing very well in class.
In November, just two months after I started grade one, I got sick. I couldn’t eat, wet the bed, threw up constantly, and lost so much weight that you could see my rib cage in just a few days. Mom knew something was wrong and took me to the hospital. The nurses put me in a wheelchair and rushed me to the emergency room, and that’s when I was diagnosed with type one diabetes (it was called Juvenile Diabetes back then). The doctor said I most likely would have died the next day if my mom hadn’t taken me in. That’s when my life changed.
About two weeks later, I went back to school and had a severe diabetic low in class, but the teacher didn’t know what to look for when it came to low blood sugar symptoms. I remember passing out on the bench where the backpacks were near the front of the classroom. That’s when mom got scared and pulled me out of school to home school me. Mom was very unwell, so unfortunately, I wasn’t taught much during that time.
When I was about 8, I was moved to a new home, and they tried teaching me a few things until I could be registered in a new school. I never really understood or processed what I was learning (processing what I was learning has always been a struggle of mine). They sent me to a grade three class, and I couldn’t figure out how to do the math I was given. I remember looking blankly on the pages and just writing letters down, not understanding the difference between numbers and letters. I was pulled out of the class to learn with another student with an intellectual disability.
When I was about 9, mom passed away and I moved from BC to Alberta, where I was diagnosed with a Generalized Learning Disability. I was sent to a more inclusive class where the teacher taught me outside of class how to read. She told me that her goal was to help me learn to read a chapter book by the end of the school year. I accomplished that, but never processed what I was reading, as comprehension has always been a struggle for me. But I remember how proud I was to be sitting in a class with children without disabilities as well and was feeling included.
As I turned 11, I moved again, and was back in a segregated classroom. I never understood certain things, so I was always kept in segregated classrooms.
In one of my homes, I remember being told that I have a low IQ and that they wanted to place me in a special school for those with developmental disabilities only in Olds, so I would have to move again. That was not inclusive, and I remember how upset that made me. But thankfully that didn’t happen.
I just wanted to be with everyone else, and to feel included, just like everyone else.
As I grew older, I knew in my heart that it was my goal in life to get a high school diploma as I was told lots as a child that I would never accomplish that. So, with the help of one amazing teacher, I made it happen. I remember how happy I was the day I was able to get my diploma after being told by certain people, including teachers, that I would never graduate because my IQ is too ‘low’ or being told that I am ‘stupid’.
I then decided to use that diploma to take Early Learning and Childcare. Unfortunately, during my 5 years off and on in that program, I wasn’t getting the support I needed to be successful. My practicum advisor told me that I would never be ready and that my disability would always get in the way of my success. That crushed me and made me feel like a failure.
Then, thanks to my boyfriend, I learned about inclusive post-secondary education. I also learned that maybe I need to investigate what my passion really is. It wasn’t just to do with working in a daycare; my passion is wanting to help children and youth who are in unfortunate circumstances. As someone who also had a challenging childhood, I knew I could use those experiences with empathy and understanding to help others. So, in the fall of 2022, I will be taking the Social Work Diploma Program at MacEwan University, supported by Inclusion Alberta’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Initiative, so that my dreams and goals can be a reality.
As someone who hasn’t had the feeling of inclusion in certain areas of my life, I believe that it is very important to treat those with disabilities (no matter the perceived ‘level’, as ‘levels of disability’ isn’t important when it comes to inclusion) with respect, empathy, understanding and acceptance. Everybody wants to feel included, whether that is taking post-secondary education, having a job/career, falling in love, getting married, and having children.
Everyone wants to feel heard and valued.
What we can all do is to make everyone feel heard and valued, as well as listen to what those with developmental disabilities are saying, as everyone wants to feel heard and valued. Here are a few things that I think we can consider and do differently when interacting with people with developmental disabilities:
- Don’t treat us differently when we don’t understand instructions or directions.
- Be patient; we are trying.
- Listen to what we have to say, and don’t interrupt.
- Understand that we all have passions and gifts.
- Don’t look at someone and say, “You don’t look like you have a disability”, as some disabilities are not as visible than others.
- Understand that it may take us a bit longer to do a task.
- Be willing to help, but again: don’t treat us differently.
- Realize that we are capable, just like how you are capable.
- Realize that we can be successful.
- Realize that we all make mistakes, and that no one is perfect.
- Realize that we all have a voice.
Emily Ouimet lives in Edmonton, with her partner Braden. She likes to shop, go for long walks, go to the gym listen to music and sing karaoke. She is a determined visionary who is excited to start her post-secondary studies in the Social Work Program at MacEwan University in the fall of 2022.