Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Inclusion's Chris Traeger Problem

Chris Traeger, for those misguided souls who are not Parks and Recreation fans, is a guy so hyperactively positive that he once broke up with a woman in such an upbeat way that she had no idea she'd been dumped. When the character was first introduced, his job was to go to towns with financial problems and get their budgets in order, but since he always seemed to be bringing good news even when the news was bad, they had to pair him up with someone more willing to swing the hatchet (see the video for Chris and Ben's MO). Chris is the guy who always seems pleased to see you, who always remembers your name, who will be so upset when he causes you to resign in disgrace that you will have to comfort him.

Lately in my family's inclusion journey, I feel like we've been meeting a lot of Chris Traegers.

Like the lady at the soup kitchen where I wanted my son to volunteer, who smiled at us and nicely invited me into her office and shared how she herself had a child with special needs and talked to me for a good ten minutes before I realized that she was saying no, he couldn't volunteer there, they couldn't possibly accommodate him, and here are a bunch of other places you should try instead.

Or the supervisor who, rather than provide direction to a young person with a disability in the workplace — because that would be mean! — chose to silently judge and eventually withdraw the job and call up her mother to suggest that maybe supported employment somewhere with more supervision would be a better choice.

In both scenarios, guess who got to be Ben Wyatt, spreading the bad news that “no, you can't volunteer here” and “no, you don't have a job to go to”? To kids who couldn't imagine why that could be, because everyone was so nice to them? Thanks, Chris. Thanks a whole heck of a lot.

We may be getting to a point with inclusion where people know it's not cool to say no to it. Sadly, however, we have not yet gotten to a point where people will therefore say yes. They just keep saying no in a way that sounds like yes until you get the idea and go away. I suppose this is improvement? A little bit? Maybe? But it still sucks.

One of the things that hurts the most about this is that, like Anne Perkins still acting like a girlfriend when Chris had sweetly stopped being her boyfriend, I collaborate for just a little bit with this act of cheerful rejection. I apologize for bothering them. I tell them I understand their concerns. I feel some camaraderie. And then, all too late and too terribly, I realize I've been providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

I certainly don't want people to be openly mean to my kids, let's be clear. But at least, you know where those folks stand. Directly in your way, for sure. But maybe that's a little more merciful than the person who puts out the invisible wire to trip you and then calls 911 to help you out?