I recently received an interesting letter from a gentleman with a disability who states the he feels “very at home among the handicapped.” He wonders why I have such a stress on inclusion. Is that not “cutting off an option?” – that of being with others who also have a disability?

A fair question. I think this notion of inclusion (meaning you are taking my choice to be with other people with disabilities) is a common misperception. Integration for any minority should not eliminate the right for that minority to decide to come together – to live, recreate, socialize, marry, share, or for political advocacy. It isn’t only one way or the other.

What I am opposed to is the forced segregation of people with disabilities. (I realize “forced” is a strong word. People can of course choose to not do anything. But generally, if you want to have an education, a job, or a place to live, your options are forced into segregated ones.)

When confronted, segregation proponents usually offer a defense that boils down to several components, one of which is, well, they like their “own kind.” I remember hearing this argument used to explain why black Americans were made to go to separate schools, or ride in the back of the bus. “They like being together.” Of course people are drawn to others who share a commonality – and that can certainly include having a disability. But that is a sad excuse for restricting equal access.

Civil rights means a level playing field and the absence of imposed segregation. It also means you have more choices and diversity about where you work, whom you socialize with, or who will be your classmate.

Let’s just take the work domain. Right now, if you want to work and you happen to have a disability, for 90% of the population with severe developmental disabilities, that means a sheltered workshop. A place where only other people with developmental disabilities will be. A job match should be about several things, including your interests, skills, and where you can be most productive. A workshop provides none of this –

So does inclusion cut off an option? On the contrary, I believe it opens them up.