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Lewis County Autism Coalition Hosts First Annual Inclusion Luncheon

The Chronicle - 4/18/2019

April 18-- Apr. 18--The Lewis County Autism Coalition hosted its first annual Inclusion Luncheon Tuesday, where it discussed how to make the county a more inclusive environment for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and people with social and behavioral differences.

Throughout the summer, the coalition will work to develop its first-year work plan. The coalition hopes to target up to four school districts for a certification process that would include "management engagement and endorsement, training of educators and holding of inclusion assemblies for students." For the work piece, the coalition wants to target up to 10 businesses to train employees and implement inclusion principles. Community education will include working with law enforcement and training inclusion ambassadors.

"It's going to be a uniquely Lewis County campaign," said Bill Weismann, Lewis County Autism Coalition facilitator. "So this next few months is a time to really sort of figure out the specifics both to secure the resources we need to be able to do it, but also to figure out exactly who is going to participate -- like which school districts -- and exactly what is going to be the level of training or technical assistance we can provide them."

The luncheon kicked off with a presentation from Tanner Calder, a community advocate, then followed with a panel discussion and time for audience comments.

Calder, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, spoke on inclusion at the beginning of the luncheon. Calder is a community advocate and program lead for the Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis and his family owns Bartel's Clothing & Shoes. He also served on the Autism Coalition Board in 2017.

He said that he has previously had jobs where bosses told him he would never get past a certain level at the organization. While he has worked professionally in community inclusion, he also has personal ties.

"Obviously personal outweighs my professional life," Calder said. "I've been looked over for jobs, I have been let go from jobs, I have had relationships end. ... The personal aspect for me is a big deal. The main thing for me -- that I need to remember and for people to remember as well -- is that it's not your label or your diagnosis, your physical capabilities or whatever. That's not who you are. ... If you are a parent, or you are a professional or you yourself are dealing with this, don't ever let what somebody tells you is wrong with you -- or if you think something is wrong with you -- don't let that (stop you from) pursuing something."

Said Calder, "Inclusion means including everybody, not just who you think deserves it."

The three main elements of the coalition's Inclusion Initiative are school, work and community. A three-person panel -- consisting of Chehalis School District special education teacher Kathryn Rotter, Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen and Chehalis Grocery Outlet co-owner Michael Morgan -- spoke to what is already taking place in Lewis County.

Chehalis Grocery Outlet currently employs seven people with some form of disability.

"It's messy, we live on the bleeding edge, we don't know what we're doing all the time -- but we're motivated, we're passionate," Morgan said. "I go to work everyday and I see the people ... (and) it's the best part of my day. The really cool part about inclusion, we didn't set out to say 'Oh, we need to include people.' We set out to do right and I think doing right is a really important part of being a citizen."


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