Access, Belonging, & Community
By Shawn Henry
If you attended OCALICONLINE this year, you likely heard me talk about the equation A + B = C, where A stands for access, B stands for belonging, and C stands for community.
You see, we cannot have true community until we have access and belonging for all. If you have belonging but not access, you are not including everyone in the equation. If you have access but not belonging, you are merely providing space but not engagement. C is only achievable when A and B are both parts of the equation.
Consider the outdoor movies that communities host in their local parks. Imagine the big, colorful television screen, the cool night air, and people sitting on blankets. It’s a wonderful community experience. But, how many of them are not truly COMMUNITY experiences?
What simple things could happen that could facilitate the A plus B equals C equation?
Maybe it is ensuring that there is a paved area so that people in wheelchairs can easily get there to watch the movie and sit with their families. Perhaps it is turning on the captions on the movie so that those who are deaf and hard of hearing can read the screen. Or maybe it’s offering technology that allows those who are blind or visually impaired to experience the movie with audio descriptions.
Moving From Exceptions to Expectations
While the concept may seem simple, I often find that implementation is the most difficult. To put this equation into practice, we must intentionally ensure that we are putting these principals into action. A + B = C happens when we go from access and belonging being exceptions in our community to being expectations in our community. It becomes the rule by which we design our community experiences. We build the ramp first because everyone can use the ramp instead of building the steps first and then deciding to build a ramp.
We need the A + B = C equation to be part of the daily conversation so that instead of people with disabilities asking, “Do you have this,” they are able to ask, “Where is it?”
Instead of asking, “Do you have a sensory room,” the question becomes, “Where is the sensory room?” Instead of asking, “Do you have a place where I can watch the movie from my wheelchair,” you ask, “Where is the space for me to watch the movie from my wheelchair?”
That is when we know we have made the A+ B = C equation a reality.
From Why to How
To do this, we must build confidence within our communities to be able to ask the right questions and make the right decisions when they are designing spaces, places, and events. Instead of asking why, we need to ask how? So often, we are quick to say it’s never enough. We must start looking at small wins as true wins so that we can appreciate them and then build on them—take that one gesture and use it to start building capacity and confidence so that it snowballs into the A + B = C equation. We often think that one little change isn’t enough, so why bother with the one little change? Well, little things really do matter. Small gestures really do matter in our lives. Small gestures in our day can make a huge difference in cultivating a sense of belonging for those in our communities who most need it. We have to take the wins, big or small, and build on them until we reach true belonging and accessibility, so that we can reach a spirit of true community.
Cultivating Confidence & Competence
Since our founding, OCALI has been focused on the three P’s—partnership, policy, and practice. It takes all three of these to build that confidence and competence within communities, but perhaps the most important is partnerships.
In the coming year, we will be prioritizing the opportunity to identify new partnerships and opportunities within our communities to cultivate this sense of belonging so that our goal of ensuring people with autism and disabilities have the opportunity to live their best lives for their whole lives is truly realized. As an organization, this is how we will make our A + B = C equation work.
It is only by working together that we can ensure that everyone in our community truly has access to and belongs to our community. It’s as simple as A + B = C. And it just adds up.
OCALICON’s 16th Edition a Sweet Success
Conference Welcomes Record Number of Participants
“I would recommend this to anyone who works with children with disabilities. There is something for everyone!”
“The amount of information that I took away from this conference was amazing! I am looking forward to implementing many of the strategies I’ve learned. I will be back next year!”
“It was so wonderful being able to attend virtually an international conference from my own home in New Zealand – while I would have loved a trip to America – being able to join online made it so achievable!”
“I love the inclusion you all create here!”
These are just a few of the comments from participants in OCALICONLINE 2022, the premier autism and disabilities conference. This year, OCALI celebrated its “Sweet 16” from November 15-18, with over 16,000 registrants from all 50 states and 50 countries. “We are so thrilled to welcome state, national, and international leaders, educators, related services professionals, parents, and self-advocates to our largest event ever,” said Shawn Henry, executive director. “It is so inspiring to convene such an energized and passionate community to focus on solutions and strategies for addressing our biggest challenges and opportunities.”
The event opened on Tuesday with a thoughtful and candid keynote conversation between 3 luminaries, leaders, and legends in the field – Temple Grandin, Judy Heumann, and Haben Girma. Weaving in examples from their own personal and professional journeys, Temple, Judy, and Haben provided insights and observations on different ways of thinking about and approaching issues related to access, universal design, and education. One attendee commented – “I loved being able to see the conversation between these three women. It was really interesting to learn about their personal experiences, but also how those experiences can be used to make positive changes in the present and future.”
After the opening keynote, attendees could “choose their own adventure” in selecting from over 300 sessions offered Tuesday afternoon through Friday. “We had over 60 different topics this year,” said Jill Hudson, content specialist. “From Behavior to Early Childhood to PBIS to Transition and Adulthood to Universal Design for Learning – there were numerous sessions and discussions designed to help further understanding, expand capacities, and build access and opportunities for people with disabilities. It’s a real privilege and honor to showcase and share the knowledge, understanding, and experiences of the more than 500 presenters and facilitators that participated this year. We’re so grateful for the sharing of their time, talents, and expertise.” The online Session Sorter tool lets attendees peruse the entire catalog to find sessions that best match their work and interests. “While the volume of offerings can be overwhelming, the Session Sorter really lets you fine tune your choices and schedule so you can maximize your participation in the conference, and find what works best for you,” said Hudson.
CEUs and Graduate Credit were offered through a multitude of licensing agencies, organizations, and universities. Additional highlights included the 2022 Award Winners and the streaming of OCALI’s programs and projects through the OCALI Channel. “The OCALI Channel ran continuously throughout the conference,” said Simon Buehrer, event specialist. “We used it to showcase some of the projects and personalities behind our work and offerings. It’s also where our hosts, the Good Life Ambassadors, helped attendees stay on track with reminders and suggestions and re-energize between sessions.” Each afternoon was also punctuated with an Energy Break hosted by the conference team. “Those are always a fun addition to the event,” said Buehrer. “It gives everyone a chance to sit back for a few minutes to relax and recharge before jumping back into sessions and networking.”
Daily 2022 highlights videos are posted on the OCALI YouTube channel. Attendees can continue to access on-demand sessions through Thursday, December 15, 2022. “We’re excited that the learning and discovery continues for a few weeks after the live event,” said Hudson. “Attendees can catch sessions they might have missed – or rewatch their favorites.”
“What an amazing year,” said Henry. “We’re excited to build on this year’s gathering and continue the connections and community into the new year – and beyond.”
OCALICONLINE 2023 will take place online November 14-17. The Call for Proposals opens in late winter 2023.
What’s New at OCALI
December 10, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Family University Virtual Training
Families and guardians of children who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, blind, or visually impaired, are invited to a FREE virtual training: Family University: Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Training with Pete Wright.
December 11, 2-5 p.m.
Join us for an Autism Open Mic to celebrate the talents of our Central Ohio Autism community. Individuals with autism are invited to participate. Registration is recommended.
Supporting the Wellness of Students and Staff
December 15, 4-4:30p.m.
Since the pandemic, school districts and educators have had to ramp up their mental health and behavioral services to support student wellness. Learn how to strengthen partnerships with families and agencies.
January 19, 4-4:30 p.m.
InspirED: Engaging Families in the Alternate Assessment
Learn more about how families should be included in discussions related to alternate assessment decision-making for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
January 30, 2:30-3 p.m.
The Journey: Autism & Trauma
In this session, Tom Galperin will discuss how persons on the autism spectrum experience trauma and will provide some concrete examples on how professionals can help.
Monthly Meet-n-Eats with the Outreach Center
Starting in January, join the Outreach Center for Deafness and Blindness for monthly, 30-minute Zoom sessions designed for SST consultants and those supporting districts to provide a quick overview of the Center’s resources.
New Podcast Episode
Take a listen to our newest episode of Inspiring Change, There Is Strength In Every Community: A Conversation about Special Education in Rural and Urban Settings.
Grab-n-Go Resource Gallery Kit
This kit, available through our Lending Library, offers a variety of interventions with how-to explanations to support all learners, including those with autism spectrum disorder.
Children’s Books on Autism
Discover books to use with children ages preschool through high school to learn more about autism.
InspirED Episodes on YouTube
Did you miss a session? Do you want to go back and re-watch your favorite episodes? Check out our InspirED Playlists on our YouTube Channel, including our latest episodes on PBIS Lessons Learned Parts 1 & 2.