What is the Ozarks Inclusion Partnership?
It’s a community group. The vision is to educate and develop relationships with organizations and business in the Ozarks about the benefits of the inclusion of individuals with disabilities to enhance the quality of their life and the community as a whole.
What organizations are involved in this initiative?
Abilities First and Arc of the Ozarks are in partnership. We have several organizations: the library, schools, (Missouri State University), the [Springfield-Greene County] Park Board.
How many people do you serve?
There are over 2,000 individuals in Greene County alone. They’re all considered developmentally disabled, so the disability has to happen before the age of 22. They just want that inclusive opportunity and to just be accepted.
How are you engaging the business community in your mission?
We’re hoping to provide education on inclusion for businesses that are open to it, and just to educate them on how really easy it is.
How can businesses be more inclusive?
Acceptance – somebody with a disability feeling accepted and welcomed in the business. Accessibility is always a big issue. Can they get around in your business? If they need help is somebody willing to help them? There’s always the aspect of being open to employment opportunities to people with disabilities. They do have a lot of skills that employers are missing out on if they don’t offer.
What are the challenges people might not realize people with disabilities face?
They just feel like they don’t fit in, that people are staring at them. Sometimes it’s just as simple as they can’t reach something. Sometimes it’s as easy as opening the door for them if their hands are full and they’re using a walker. Just greeting them and being welcoming is honestly the biggest thing.
What are some examples of businesses that have become more inclusive to customers?
There is a CrossFit trainer that has actually opened a program for 18 and under individuals with disabilities and is just really breaking the barrier of the parents’ fear – ‘Oh no, they can’t do that.’ And they’ve actually built up to where some of the kids are actually doing the full-on CrossFit set. Incredible Pizza has been there since day one. Once a month they do sensory time for individuals on Saturday. Individuals with sensory issues come for two hours before Incredible Pizza opens. They can play games with the lights turned down and things are a little bit calmer. What we’re seeing happening is families are able to stay afterwards. They can stay 15 minutes after the lights come up, and now we have families that don’t even have to go to the sensory, they can just go to Incredible Pizza whenever they want. Itty Bitty City has been here from the start, too. They do a lot with mobility issues and sensory, dance and music therapy.
Do you have a personal connection to the initiative?
This is just my passion. I truly believe that every person has the equal right to live, love, work and play in their community. Everyone needs to understand that.
Stacey Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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