“Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.” It’s a phrase we’ve no doubt heard many times throughout the years as part of “The Golden Rule,” and it still rings true today. Common courtesy and kindness are practices that just can’t go wrong. And at its core, it is that very hospitality which defines inclusion. After all, everyone wants to feel as if they are welcomed, accepted, and wanted.
That’s why inclusion matters — because when we lean into inclusive practices, we are really working toward infusing our American Legion Auxiliary units, districts, zones, departments, and divisions with active members who can bring a wealth of ideas to help us in our mission of service. In the ALA, we talk about ways to recruit, retain, and rejoin members so that we can ensure our mission of service to our veterans continues. And today’s veterans, military, their families, and our communities are made up of so many different individuals with so many needs. By bringing as many active participants as possible and different ideas to the table, we are ensuring we are better equipped to serve and meet them.
This sentiment is certainly true when we look at how to be inclusive of individuals with special abilities or needs. Disability awareness is crucial, but true inclusion moves beyond accepting their presence to supporting their active participation in our programs. So, what are some key features of inclusion that we can use as tips and tricks to support individuals of ALL abilities to participate in every aspect of our Legion Family from meetings to leadership roles?
Create intentional interactions.
It’s really important that we not only give a wave or a smile, but that we actively and intentionally take the time to engage with individuals, especially those who might have special abilities. By spending time getting to know our members, we make them feel welcomed and supported, AND we get the chance to identify their passions and skills that can be utilized in our service work! Maybe they are really proficient with technology and would be a great fit to support efforts related to website buildouts and public relations/marketing efforts! Perhaps they are super organized and would make a great fit as secretary! Intentional interactions pave the way for powerful participation.
Provide individualized supports.
Have you ever been in a meeting and not been able to hear the speaker clearly because they just wouldn’t use the microphone? Imagine being a person who is deaf or hard of hearing! It wouldn’t be very welcoming to come to meetings, but never know what’s going on or being said. You could try offering reserved seating up front for members who need to be closer, or even provide written copies of remarks ahead of time so that members could read and follow along as reports are given. What a great way to ensure all members can participate!
Don’t forget your sociology.
Always remember that at the heart of inclusion is the desire for a sense of belonging! Sometimes, individuals with special abilities get left out unintentionally. We fear saying the wrong thing, or we simply don’t know how to approach ... or worse, we assume that because they have special needs, they won’t be able to complete the duties and responsibilities of some of our roles and positions within the organization. Here’s the tip: Never presume; instead, seek to understand and support. Maybe with some extra directions ahead of time or pre-written prayers, that once-shy individual shines bright as your chaplain. When we seek to expand opportunities for everyone, relying on understanding, instead of limiting based on our perceptions, we get far greater outcomes!
Claire Gallagher (Moore), M.A., CDP, BCBA, LBA, is an American Legion Auxiliary member from Virginia. She currently is secretary of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.
ABOUT THE DEI COMMITTEE
The ALA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee was created to open up an important dialogue within our membership — a dialogue that is happening with organizations around the world. This committee works to figure out where we are and where we want to be, develop inclusion and diversity goals and strategies, involve members in discussions on inclusion and diversity, and expand leadership opportunities for all.
The DEI Committee, along with the Code of Ethical Conduct Committee, was formed following recommendations from the national Strategic Planning and Constitution & Bylaws committees at the National Executive Committee meeting in August 2019. More than 200 Auxiliary members nationwide applied to serve on the special committees.