Tolerance and inclusion can change everything

Dan Hughes
Sep 10 · 5 min read

One small act or reasonable adjustment can create giant ripples…

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As a family, we like to go to Alton Towers — and for good reason. Not only are the rides bleedin’ brilliant and the grounds quite magical, but the special needs provision is excellent.

Not too long ago, my wife and I took our son, Sidney, to Alton Towers as a treat before starting school. The reasonable adjustments the park made for us as a family made our day one to remember for all the right reasons — unlike some other excursions we’ve been on in recent years.

Sidney is autistic and as such, is sensitive to certain sensory stimulations; he also finds it almost impossible to queue (I’m not a fan either, but he really hates it).

Everything Alton Towers offered us as a result of getting an Access Pass made our day out as seamless as possible. But, I’d like to shine a light one event in particular.

No, not the cars…

They have a mini driving course at Alton Towers where youngsters can cart themselves around in mini electric cars and get as frustrated as their parents, with the likes of busy junctions, wreckless road users, and traffic lights to navigate for a full-on five minutes.

Like any other kid his age, Sidney wanted to go — in fact, he tried to jump over the fence and jack one of the cars as soon as they entered his eye-line.

Despite there being no disability or Access Pass provisions for this particular attraction, Sidney actually queued with us for over half an hour, patiently — a testament to just how much he wanted to drive around the miniature test centre.

During that time, we realised that he would have to go it alone, listen to the briefing, and choose a car while we watched from the sidelines. I was a bit nervous.

Sidney’s speech & language delay and his challenges in listening to people in noisy settings meant that it was unlikely he would be able to operate the electric vehicle (not too far-flung from his old man’s driving capabilities — parking certainly isn’t my strong point).

But, I know all too well that he should have the same experiences and opportunities as everyone else. So, we let him go.

It was time. As we left Sidney in the briefing pen with the other excitable kids, I tried to explain the situation to the lady in charge — she said, “don’t worry, he’ll be fine.” It didn’t sound like she had listened.

Balls.

So, we stood there gritting our teeth with slightly sweaty palms, looking on as Sidney chose his steed of choice. He hadn’t listened to the briefing, but he was smiling and ready to rock.

He tried to accelerate but couldn’t steer at the same time, so he hit a plastic pedestrian and mounted a synthetic bush. He didn’t mind.

Next, he tried to steer but didn’t put his foot on the electric gas— he was stationary, so an infant traffic jam swiftly ensued.

Yes, the cars…

Naturally, the other parents looked at us and our son like we were alien life forms (what’s new). I ignored their stares.

Then something quite special happened.

The lady in charge, who I decided hadn’t listened to me, jogged on over to Sidney and with a reassuring smile, began to push him around, talking to him about his surroundings as he steered his way around the roads.

She looked like she might have a problematic hip and she was in her 60s. And, she made my weekend.

It wasn’t easy for her to cart Sidney around the course, but she did it anyway so he could experience the attraction and join in the action.

That’s what I call a reasonable adjustment — an act of tolerance and inclusion that we seldom we in everyday life. And, if it happened more, change could occure.

Why are reasonable adjustments important?

In short, because they just are. But, to elaborate a bit more, consider this for a moment…

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A little food for thought right here.

Invisible disabilities, by their very nature, are elusive, covert even. As a result, when someone who experiences the world in a different way does something unusual, can’t grasp a task in the ‘preferred way’ or acts out, they’re chastised or punished.

A lifetime of such treatment can have disastrous consequences. In fact, it’s more common for autistic people to experience suicidal thoughts or die of suicide than the general neurotypical population.

Why? More often than not, it’s likely that they’re forced to live in a world that refuses to accommodate them. And, there’s more.

If suicide isn’t bad enough, what about the 13-year-old autistic boy who was shot dead recently? Or the innocent neurodiverse lad who was accidentally crushed to death at school for having a terrible, destructive meltdown.

Then there’s young Elijah McClain, the young man killed by the cops in America in an act of institutional racism (brutality) — and, because he was a bit different.

So, what’s the point of this? The woman with the bad hip at Alton Towers didn’t have to push Sid around. She could have turned a blind eye or turfed him out (which would have been bullshit).

Instead, she decided to help him be a part of the experience. It may seem like a small act but that reasonable adjustment is an example of how easy it is to make the world a little more inclusive if only we can make a little effort here and there.

As my son grows, he will start to become all the more aware that he sees the world differently to many. And, I hope that as he does, the people around him let him be himself and take measures to help him do so.

I take the time to help Sidney understand that sometimes, he will have to comply in ways he might not want to — but, if he has to do this too much, it could throw him well off his axis.

So, all in all, the point is this: if you encounter someone doing something a little differently or acting in a way that isn’t deemed ‘normal’, you could be unkind or get pissed off. Alternatively, you could either leave them be or if you get the chance, find a way to include them — you don’t have to move mountains, just make a reasonable adjustment.

Who knows? It could just make a massive difference.

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