The Welcome Inclusion (WIN) Initiative hit the ground running with their kickoff Leadership Symposium June 27th. Hundreds of people attended— self-advocates, parents, Microsoft employees and executives, executives and sponsors from the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, business and community leaders, teachers, political leaders, Children's Hospital Autism Center and University of Washington providers, researchers and a wide variety of community members all making this event the start of something great.
Let me give you a play-by-play, in case you missed it! Ben Wahl from Ryther started us off, then a welcome video from Senator Patty Murray, a special message from Governor Jay Inslee (that I was pleased to read to the crowd!), and a proclamation from Mayor Ed Murray read by WIN director Kimberly Corrigan, stating that June 27th is Welcome Inclusion Day and further, that the first Wednesday of every month be WIN-day!
The WIN team with the help of Arc Media played a very special video describing why WIN is important, followed by the Executive Director of The Arc of King County, Stacy Gillett. Gillett talked about Arc’s history fighting for disability rights and what we as a community need to do to make a difference. "We are a nation that can and does change” Gillett said, "we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” She introduced facts and realities that for many people with differences come lowered educational outcomes, depression, and isolation and stress on parents, marriages, and unprepared school and health systems. The Arc has been helping individuals and families overcome these challenges for 81 years, and called for action to end discrimination and build communities in the Northwest that are inclusive, based on the premise that segregation and isolation are unacceptable. The Arc Board of Directors took the entrepreneurial step of housing the Welcome Inclusion (WIN) initiative 6 months ago. Leadership in action.
Welcome Inclusion (WIN) co-founder Jim Mancini told the story of the creation of WIN, and keynote speaker Dr. Nancy Rosenberg shared a story, often sorrowful, of her parental experience with her severely affected child with Autism. Keynote speaker Ivanova Smith, self-advocate and UW LEND Fellow, lent a different perspective and challenged the crowd. "Asking for accommodations at their job isn’t cheating the system” she said, "and [we] shouldn’t be treated as burdens for doing so." Smith also spoke about how “to appreciate diversity and actively support inclusion” and that by doing so we must understand that, “a neurotypical person [simply] cannot know the context of what a neurodiverse person thinks,” much like "how a man could never fully understand how the female brain works" a line that drew laughs and smiles.
Kat Davis and self-advocate Zack Sideek moved the mic around the room to hear from half a dozen family members and self-advocates talking about their experiences with acceptance, diversity, and finding jobs. A few self-advocates spoke about their experiences in the workplace and how, “[companies] don’t know what to do with us, so we remain forgotten.” Other self-advocates spoke, some assisted by their parents, about their experiences with different local businesses that made them feel welcomed and included, while one summed up the main message of acceptance and diversity perfectly saying, “we have a lot to learn from each other.”
Co-founders of WIN Jim Mancini and Raphael Bernier, and their UW colleagues and researchers Jill Locke and Hala Annabi shared the education program and training for businesses to help them become more welcoming and their on-going research on attitude change and best practices. Kimberly Corrigan and Tammy Savage launched the WIN Online Community platform (soon to become a downloadable app) for those with differences and their families and friends to find WIN businesses. Beth Knox, the executive director of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, (in Seattle from July 1st to the 6th) spoke about the goal for Seattle to be a “model city of inclusion” when the games come—a challenge laid out earlier in the year by the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith. In my interview with her afterwards, Knox talked about what the success of [WIN] looked like to her saying, “through the lense of the Special Olympics, if the families of the athletes feel like they are supported and welcomed and have access, that’s success to me.”
A Video of Maria Cantwell supporting the initiative was followed by keynote speaker and King County Executive, Dow Constantine, who delivered a rousing speech about his partnership with The Arc, WIN, and his focus on King County being a pioneer city of acceptance for all no matter what gender, race, religion, disability. He made a strong ethical, economic and civic case for inclusion.
Next was Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, as well as 2018 Special Olympics USA Games board member, Brad Smith who spoke about his goal for Seattle to be a “model city of inclusion” and how we, as a community here in Seattle, have a chance to create something permanent, saying, “our potential legacy is not a building… it’s the way people think… it’s the way people might welcome each other differently— “the best way to make a positive impression is for the 2018 Special Olympics National Games is to change the mindsets of the people here in the Puget Sound.”
WIN steering committee chair, Dr. Gary Stobbe, concluded the event speaking about how the overall mission of the Initiative is to “address ignorance through education and experience” and the main goal is for people to "get involved and get active, to work for change" “You [are all here] for a reason,” he said, encouraging them to give feedback and get involved in any way they can. “We can make the most difference if we are together and united" Stobbe said, "we all have talents to bring to the table!”
Lunch speaker, Steve Ferreira, a self-advocate with cerebral palsy and a ParaOlympics champion with his own business, Beyond Disabilities, encouraged everyone to open hearts and minds, stop bullying and start engaging with people with differences.