Ah, the wheel. It’s such a simple concept, and yet its invention was a major landmark in human civilization. It’s also a necessary tool to enable most adaptive sports. When our bodies need a little extra assistance, the wheel is what often guides our successes. But these triumphs didn’t happen overnight, and there’s still work to be done. The story of adaptive sports is still being written, particularly in understanding inclusion vs. integration.

What is meant by inclusion vs. integration? While you might hear these terms used interchangeably, the nuance that separates them is pretty significant. For some time now, inclusion has been the catch-all word for any efforts toward accessibility, but these efforts haven’t always been truly inclusive.

Integration is a step up from exclusion and segregation because it refers to adjustments that might be made in order to incorporate an individual who would otherwise be excluded. It’s an action that suggests good intentions, but it ultimately falls short of true inclusion. Inclusion refers to removing the barriers that would have excluded people in the first place wherever possible.

As a simplified example, imagine a college campus where there are two paths to get from building A to building B. Originally, there was just a desire-path, which cut through the woods between A and B, but in the name of accommodation, there is now a sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the campus. The sidewalk is longer and sits out in the hot sun, so students typically prefer the shorter, cooler path through the woods.

Installing the sidewalk enables more people to integrate into the campus, but it is unsuccessful at including them in typical student life. Closing the desire-path and pushing all traffic onto the sidewalk would also be an act of integration, since it comes at the expense of students’ ability to keep cool and experience nature together. The inclusive solution addresses the systems and barriers that create the exclusion in the first place: the inaccessible path. Widening or paving the desire-path is the more inclusive decision.

None of this is meant to look down on the work others are doing. Intentions matter, and the way we encourage growth and even more progress is this right here: this conversation. We’re not the first or last to write about inclusion vs. integration, and that should give us all a lot of hope for the future.

The humble wheel has carried us a great distance thus far, enabling adaptive sports from cycling to basketball to surfing and more, and with a little extra work from this wonderful community of ours, it’s exciting to think about where we’re headed next.