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Inclusive Lessons Learned on Holiday Road

LiveWorkPlay travel support is all about helping people with intellectual disabilities enjoy travel experiences where they get to meet other people and other people get to meet them. Club Med Turkoise has proven a remarkably inclusive environment. Our last visit here was three years ago, and some of the other guests who got to know LiveWorkPlay members at that time are back again and picking up where they left off – this has been made easy in some cases because they have been connected on Facebook for all these years! The 2014 return trip from January 17-24 featured a mix of travel veterans and rookies who together with hundreds of other guests created not only lasting memories, but also demonstrated that inclusive thinking and actions are more than just a possibility.
Some guests even organized their trip so they could be with us at the resort at the same time. Being included in any environment is helped not only by having people around who know you really well, but also by having allies – people who might not know you that well, but will support you to have success. That has been the experience here at Turkoise. LiveWorkPlay members joined in anything and everything, and although LiveWorkPlay staff (and on this trip, Ellyce, a member of the volunteer team) are around for support, they can’t be everywhere and they don’t need to be. There are Club Med staff too, but most importantly, dozens of other guests who have taken the time to get to know various LiveWorkPlay members and are a natural support! It’s usually about getting help with the little things, and there is a real sense of freedom when getting a little bit of help doesn’t always require tracking down a family member or a staff person.

Most important of all to note, this relationship is reciprocal – many LiveWorkPlay members are busy connecting newcomer guests to Club Med staff and other guests, and helping them understand the different activities. They are often LEADERS with inviting guests to join in activities and helping people try new things, like trapeze or maybe snorkelling. Let’s think about what that means.

Why is it that in their daily lives in cities like Ottawa (but really, almost everywhere) people with intellectual disabilities are often assumed to be INCAPABLE of contributing and being appreciated in society that they are housed separately from others and spend their time separately from others in congregated classrooms, day programs, and sheltered workshops?

1blogYet in this environment where everyone is assumed to be CAPABLE people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to take on a full range of roles, where they are not only welcomed, but are so strongly valued that large numbers of people – from paid Club Med staff to guests from around the world – shed tears when LiveWorkPlay departed the resort. They were crying because they felt the loss to the Club Med community!

From guest Jacinta: Thanks to the travelers I met from LiveWorkPlay I felt very welcome from the time I arrived! Shelby tipped his hat to me when I first got there, and I thought he was an official Club Med greeter!  I really appreciated how Kyle, Scott, Justin, and others invited me to play water volleyball and they were patient with me as I learned to get the ball over the net. Basically, the day you all left, the place lost a lot of its sparkle. I was talking with a group of 4-5 people afterwards and we were all reflecting on what an unexpected surprise it was to have this added joy as part of our vacation.  You taught a lot of people a lot about being in the moment.

From Club Med staff member Tonio: This was my best week on this job in the two years I have been with Club Med. I don’t know what I will do after you all leave. There are so many examples about how guests from LiveWorkPlay made life better this week. I think many of the staff will remember the weekly soccer game the most. Usually very few guests come out and play and it turns into a very competitive game between staff members. We had a very competitive game including about a dozen people from LiveWorkPlay, but when I talked about with my colleagues afterwards, we realized that this was the most fun we’ve ever had. I heard the same sort of thing from the water sports staff, the DJ, trapeze, you name it. The impact was everywhere. I will never forget it!

From guest Will: I always go on vacation looking to recharge the batteries, and hopefully to meet new and interesting people. I was not prepared to meet 33 of them! I feel like I became a better man for having met and socialized with all of you. Thank you for teaching this hardened New Yorker that great people exist in this world. The second you left the resort, it became a totally different place, but full of the good spirit that you left behind. And not a single person I spoke to was not impressed by how fantastic every one of you made us feel about the people we met, but most importantly about ourselves. I will feel honored if our paths cross again.

2blogAside from the loss of personal attachments that have ended (at least for now) it is apparent that it was really the loss of LEADERSHIP that impacted other guests and Club Med staff the most. Scott won’t be bringing someone new to the trapeze. Daniel won’t be inviting guests on stage with the Club Med staff to learn dance moves. Janet won’t be welcoming newcomers and introducing them around the resort. Paul won’t be inviting a table of guests from France to join him in a glass of wine. And so on!

Does this mean that having an intellectual disability doesn’t present any sort of unique challenges in this or any other travel situation? No. LiveWorkPlay staff are kept pretty busy. But don’t forget how big a group of people are involved. And that they are all sharing a small space as living quarters. And are being constantly exposed to other people who likely have little to no experience in social contexts with people who have intellectual disabilities.

That’s a big part of the staff role in these situations – helping other guests understand that something they are seeing or hearing is not reason to be afraid or reason to intervene. To talk with them in a respectful way about autism, or Down syndrome, and why some of what they have observed is simply a part of humanity that they just haven’t had the opportunity to experience before. But also that we appreciate that they are having the conversation, and that being curious is an honest and courageous reaction. Better to be curious and informed than turn away and remain ignorant!

After just 7 days there are now dozens of people going back to wherever they came from as champions of inclusion. It makes all of us at LiveWorkPlay happy and it also makes us a little sad that things aren’t done a bit differently in our schools and our communities, because everyone is missing out from all of our investment in separating people instead of bring them together. This past week proves once again that what people have in common will always overcome what seems different – if given the time (and support) to bridge those differences and arrive at a place of mutual respect.

If you are involved in the LiveWorkPlay community, you might be thinking that life in Ottawa is not so bad. After all, don’t most of our members live in homes of their own, have jobs, volunteer in their community, and take part in non-segregated sports, arts, and recreation?

select-blogGenerally speaking that is true, but of course it varies from person to person. But this far from the norm in our community. There are hundreds of individuals and families who are waiting for help with getting connected in their own community, because it doesn’t come easily without professional support. And most of the systems resources in our community are not invested in inclusive outcomes. They are mostly invested in solutions that either have not considered a full life in the community as the end goal, or have assumed that it is simply not possible.

Not only is it possible, but when citizens in the community and people with intellectual disabilities are provided the OPPORTUNITY and some support to have success together, the results are often spectacular for all concerned. LiveWorkPlay has provided a submission to the Legislature of Ontario Select Committee on Developmental Services in the hopes that we can contribute to an ongoing dialogue about how to make better use of resources to develop inclusive outcomes.