Mary Drout, Ph.D., is the director of the Master of Arts in Counseling: Rehabilitation Counseling program offered through Adler University’s Chicago Campus. The program prepares clinicians to improve the quality of life for individuals who face physical, developmental and emotional challenges associated with disabilities.
At the 2018 Oscars, Francis McDormand highlighted the term “inclusion rider” in reference to a strategy to ensure the equitable hiring of underrepresented people in the film industry — one that involves adding “riders” within contracts to promote equality.
When I first heard the term, I did not think of a contractual provision to foster inclusion. Instead, I thought of my professional focus, rehabilitation counseling, which is devoted to helping people with disabilities achieve inclusion in workplaces and communities.
Rehabilitation counselors use the counseling process to help individuals with disabilities achieve their goals. I am fortunate to work with a very talented group of students who are pursuing masters degrees in the field. In myriad arenas outside the film industry, individuals with disabilities continue to face environmental barriers — both physical and attitudinal — that preclude their full access to various resources. Thus, a key role for rehabilitation counselors is that of advocacy: Promoting clients’ self-advocacy, and advocating for them to combat systemic barriers.
Adler University’s rehabilitation counseling program graduates foster inclusion for people with disabilities in many ways. Some help them head back to work after an injury. This might involve tasks like identifying and implementing accommodations — ergonomic office furniture, flexible schedules, sit-stand desks, and others — to facilitate that return. Consultations with the employee, his or her employer, and a physician inform the course of action.
Some graduates work with students who have severe disabilities. They help them transition from high school and onto their chosen paths, whether community college, new study programs, or to the workforce. Efforts here involve identifying and creatively supplementing supportive resources to help them reach their goals. This can be especially challenging from a financial standpoint.
Other graduates assist individuals with severe mental illnesses; securing inclusion and maximizing opportunities for growth. Despite which clients they serve, it’s not uncommon for our graduates to encounter resistance from people who underestimate what individuals with disabilities can accomplish. Perhaps this is due to a lack of understanding, or existing stereotypes about various disabilities.
In me, the term “rider” evokes a sense of great courage — specifically, that of the Freedom Riders fighting for civil rights in the 1960s. In light of the active role of rehabilitation counselors, I look forward to discussing with my students the extent to which they see themselves as future “inclusion riders” willing to take active roles to promote societal understanding, and address any barriers blocking access and opportunity for people with disabilities.
Visit adler.edu to learn more about our rehabilitation counseling program.