A Rat Race on Inclusion

The hilarious movie Rat Race (2001) is about a group of people who have the opportunity to win a large sum of money. They will have to compete in a race in order to reach a safe-deposit that contains a two million dollar prize. The movie is full of witty, foolish, bizarre characters that are all blinded by the idea of becoming rich. Do you know what this movie and discussions on CBR have in common?

It seems that disability oriented organisations are sometimes in a race, a rat race towards reaching one grant prize: inclusion for all. Even though we all want the same thing (or let’s assume we do), we are not so much allies. We are more likely competitors fighting to be the first and the best in the inclusion contest. In fact, the similarity between our efforts to accomplish inclusion and the movie does not stop here.

The trouble in the movie already starts at the beginning:
Merrill: So, when you say "go", you mean, just go?
Donald Sinclair: Uh, begin, commence, start moving... theoretically you have been racing for about forty seconds now, and so far Mr. Schaffer is winning because he's nearest to the door.

Local and international disability and development organisations all started their journey towards inclusion. Yet, they seem not always aware of the fact that the race has already begun. People with disabilities are excluded, discriminated and ignored in all domains of society as we speak, and there is a need for direct action. Meanwhile, we like to have our discussions about what exactly is inclusion, whether inclusion is in fact the right terminology, who should be part of inclusion efforts, etcetera, etcetera. At conferences and in papers we ask ourselves: ‘should we call our strategy Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), Community Based Inclusive Development (CBID), Inclusive Local Development (ILD) or more recently even Community Based Inclusion (CBI)?’ We are in fact so busy to find the best strategy and the perfect terminology that we may actually forget that the race has started.

In many ways, disability organisations share a likeness with the Rat Race characters.One couple of contestants are mother Vera and daughter Merrill. Merrill is convinced that the contest is a scheme, but she would like to strengthen the relationship with her mother. Mother Vera is more interested in the adventure itself than the prize. Both characters do not believe that the prize, or for that matter inclusion, is what they should strive for. As long as the competition is fun and strengthens their relationship they are content with the race.

Can you see the similarities with those organisations that love to strengthen their organisational capacities and join in the fun activities? Do they actually believe that inclusion is really the goal that makes the race worth, or is the race itself satisfying enough?

Another remarkable couple are the brothers Duane and Blaine. They truly believe that the prize is worth the effort, and that anything should be done to win. However, because winning is so important to them, they do not shrug away from any sort of tactic. From staging an accident to sabotaging the radar system of the airport, anything goes.

Perhaps we are not so different from the two silly brothers. We all so desperately want to claim our strategy towards inclusion is the best, that we may forget that these discussions sometimes cost millions of dollars through studies and conferences. Instead of seeking collaboration and joining forces with others, we sometimes rather slander others because of their strategy or accomplishments.Surely we can see the necessity of consensus on the means, ends and terminology, but do the majority of these endless discussions really contribute to the inclusion and wellbeing of people with disabilities?

Finally, it is the enthusiastic Enrico Pollini who is first to reach the prize. Mr Pollini however suffers from sleep disorder and falls asleep when trying to open the safe. When the other contestants finally arrive it appears that the bag of money was stolen by someone else.

A main lesson to learn from this movie is that a rolling stone gathers no moss. If disability organisations keep fighting each other on what is the best wording of the same prize, then no one in the end will win. Least of all will people with disabilities be included in all domains of society.Yes, this race may be fun, it may strengthen the capacity of our organisations, and there may be better or worse strategies of competition. Yet, while we contest, race, maybe cheat, and fight a little, all contestants will lose in the end. We should not engage in rivalry and futile discussions, but work together to break the barriers that lead to exclusion of people with disabilities.

Let us not be the fools of Rat Race and instead keep our eyes together on the grant prize.


PS; with lots of thanks to Dave Lupton for designing the cartoon for this column!