It's simple: pull together people of different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and physical and cognitive abilities, and the community will be better for it.

Peg Gustell says society is always richer when people share their talents, regardless of who they are. After being with the Inclusion Network for more than six years, she should know. The Network seeks to improve inclusion, provide assistance and link people with and without disabilities. From companies that have modified their architecture to be more accommodating, to those that supply reading materials in several formats, Gutsell, who was promoted to director of the Network last year, says Cincinnati still has work to do, but has made plenty of progress.

What do you want the Inclusion Network to accomplish in Cincinnati?
The Inclusion Network wants to continue to lead the community. I would like to see more organizations step forward and request inclusion audits to create opportunities for people who have disabilities to be contributors. I would like to see more people attend and support our Inclusion Leadership Awards event, which is a platform for raising the awareness about the value of inclusion.

It is my hope that neighbors, friends, and co-workers will think about people with disabilities, not in terms of their disability, but in terms of who that person is as an individual and what that person has to contribute. When society thinks about issues relating to diversity and acceptance, I'd like to see people with disabilities automatically and routinely considered.

What is it like teaching at the collegiate level?
At one point in my college career, my [state-and-federally-funded] vocational rehabilitation program refused to fund my tuition because they believe 'blind people can't teach.' I've taught at four universities and I appreciate the opportunity to impact students who would be working with people who have disabilities.

I remember a lesson that was learned when several of my students cheated on a midterm exam, upsetting others who had witnessed it. I asked the class to work together in developing a solution, and I heard feedback that they felt it was a valuable experience. [This] collaboration with students is important, and leads to greater knowledge about and respect for people of diverse characteristics.
 
What do families need most during the education process?
For any family, an important need is to feel that your child is wanted in the school community. ...It is important for children early on to be exposed to and learn about respecting other children who are different from themselves. Beyond that, it's especially helpful for families to have working partnerships with the school. 
 
How has the Awards PROGRAM changed over the years?
The Inclusion Leadership Awards has grown into the area's largest inclusive event, with more than 900 people attending. It is our main platform for raising awareness about the value of inclusion. We do that through the message of a featured speaker, and through our awards and videos. One of our goals is to increase the understanding of what it means to be 'inclusive,' and we know we've done that both by the quality of nominations we're receiving now from the community, and by the comments and requests we receive following the event.