Opening the Door to Inclusion
July 5, 2016
by Julian Davis
Many, many years ago my career started as a physical education teacher at St. Michael’s House, an organisation for people with an intellectual disability. An enlightened leader in that organisation hired me and another young teacher to bring sport and physical education to a sector of the population that traditionally were at best ‘minded,’ but in reality they were largely forgotten, ignored and hidden away.
The truth was, on my first day at work, I had never spoken to a person with an intellectual disability. So it was with a lot of trepidation on that first morning that I made my way into a large room where over 30 people were engaged in tearing open tea bags and emptying the contents into boxes. To this day I have no idea why they were doing that, but that is what they did all day. They were collected by bus in the morning, sat there all day doing this ‘job,’ and then were bused home in the evening.
I went in and introduced myself, and asked if there was anyone who would like to spend a few hours a week doing something a little different. Far from the rapturous response I expected, a few hands went up and said they would be interested in giving it a go, and so my first group was formed.
Back then I don’t think I had ever heard of the term social exclusion. I guess I knew some people were not as fortunate as I was, but that was about as far as it got but that first day in my new job was to open my eyes to the fact that by doing small positive things we can have a profound impact on the lives of our fellow global citizens. One of the people who put their hand up that day was a young woman named Rita Lawlor. Despite multiple obstacles in her way, with a little encouragement and support from me and others, Rita emerged as one of the finest gymnasts you could imagine. She represented her country at numerous Special Olympics World Games, and went on to become a Global Ambassador for the movement, which culminated with a presentation to President Bill Clinton at the White House. Rita is now a Patron of and serves on the Board of Special Olympics Ireland. Even more significant is that a few years after our first meeting, she had left St. Michael’s House, found employment in a leading Dublin hotel, and was – and still is – living independently in the community.
I am telling you this story not because of anything I did – the reality is that I didn’t do a whole lot. What I did do – without knowing it at the time – was open the door of inclusion and opportunity for Rita. She did the rest. We were there when she needed us, but she did it herself.
There are people like Rita all around us – not just people with an intellectual disability, but people who, for one reason or another, are unable to participate fully in society. The smallest bit of support can make a massive difference to their lives. As a person who has worked at FleishmanHillard for over 26 years, I am excited and very proud – but not at all surprised – that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of our great company by seeking out people like Rita all over the world and giving them an opportunity to participate more fully in society.
Robert Kennedy in his famous ‘Ripple of Hope’ speech in South Africa in 1966 said “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
I am looking forward to joining with all my FleishmanHillard colleagues here in Dublin and around the world as we start sending out our tiny ripples of hope for someone in our local communities. Good luck.