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Annual ABI Conference turns ten

by Abby Braithwaite

On May 2nd, the All Born (In) conference celebrated its 10th birthday, and the cake was delicious. Born in the spring of 2006, the ABI conference started as a gathering of fewer than 100 parents and professionals dedicated to inclusion in schools. Today the movement has grown to include over 2,000 parents, teachers, students, administrators, caregivers, business owners and volunteers, 500 of whom attended the conference.

My daughter Adara was born just a couple of months after the first ABI conference, and we had the privilege of attending for the first time when she was just 9 months old. My husband and I did not quite know what we were doing there, as “inclusion” still seemed like a pretty far-away concept for parents of an infant who was just finding her place in our family, but I am so glad we had the opportunity to attend so early. I will never forget the words of the 2007 keynote speaker Jeff Strully. “If you don’t intend for your child to grow up, graduate from high school, move out, get a job and have a real life,” he asked the room, “what the heck are you doing wasting your time in early intervention?”

And suddenly I got it. ABI is not just about schools, about Special Ed, about getting my kid through school and helping other parents do the same. It’s about the long haul, and about building communities that understand that All Means All, that when we take the time to truly embrace and celebrate our differences, we will be the best world. We can share research, tips for success, date and numbers. But at its heart, this conversation about inclusion is really about the human need for belonging. We all do better when we know we belong, when we are supported, and when we embrace the vast array of differences that make up this beautiful human fabric. When we work to best serve a variety of individuals we become better teachers, parents, leaders, and professionals. Inclusion isn’t just about making schools more welcoming for children with disabilities; it is about making the world a richer and more diverse place for everyone.

This past weekend we dropped Adara off at a birthday party for one of her classmates, who had insisted that Adara be on the small guest list. She is included in her school and her life, and embraced by all who know her. This is no accident. As we approach her birthday in the end of June, I am incredible grateful for all that I have learned from being a part of the ABI movement, and am so proud of both my daughter and the ABI movement for a decade of incredible growth and power.

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