Charades: A Simple Game? Think Again

May 6, 2022

During a recent writing workshop, the Education and Youth Empowerment (EYE) team played a game of charades. The game, which was used as a team-building activity, involves the use of gestures to describe different words which ought to be guessed by other players. Words such as youth, technology, and university were part of those incorporated during the highly competitive session. At the beginning of each writing session, team members had a chance to share their highlights from the workshop; of the highlights shared, the charades game kickstarted a discussion around the difficult task of communicating without words.

It was this segue that led the team to a larger discussion on inclusion, particularly around inclusion in research and practice, specifically at the Center (APHRC).  Discussions revolved around inclusion in hiring, building accessibility and overall participation.

To get a clearer picture of the different perceptions of inclusion and for a quick knowledge assessment, the team conducted a short online survey. Emerging sentiments on what inclusion means: leaving no one behind, everyone participating, having everyone participate and be empowered to feel part of the whole, education for all, supporting the needs of all equally, accommodating everyone irrespective of their abilities, socio-economic and personal challenges.

Of the 16 participants, about 50% of the participants expressed that the research they conduct is inclusive. More than 50% of the participants shared that practices at the Center demonstrate limited inclusivity, while 20% of the participants noted that on average the Center’s operations demonstrate inclusivity. On the awareness of the different special education categories in Kenya as documented in the Special Needs Education Policy (SNE, 2009), participants demonstrated awareness of seven out of the 22 (38%) categories listed.

On existing stereotypes about individuals with disabilities in the society, responses included: they are alienated, low ability, they are not wanted, they need to helped to be able to do things like moving around, they are not productive members of society, they are differently-abled and completely helpless, viewed as a burden, seen as unable to perform, they do not need similar education, they do not have the capacity to lead and live normal lives, they are like the rest who are normal, they are cursed, their challenges are infectious, that they are needy and it is too much work to work with them or include them in activities and they are unable to learn and grow. Overall, the clear themes about stereotypes in society showed that stereotypes revolve around deficit perspectives, posing a burden and cultural factors.

Closer to home, the question on existing stereotypes about individuals with disabilities in the center included: they can’t fit in, there is no space, do we even hire people with special needs, can’t handle pressure so can’t work at APHRC, they are not included in the mission and vision and the work at the Center, not experienced any, and they are equal to the rest. Overall, the clear themes about possible stereotypes at a personal level showed that these biases revolve around operations, structures and limited interactions with individuals with special needs, both at the individual and institutional levels.

In summary, awareness about inclusion comprises a variety of aspects. Individuals with special needs make up a segment of the population that is often relegated to the margins of society. With the increasing discussions around inclusion, it is imperative to be informed about these topics and to be self-aware of implicit biases, and assumptions as we build a more inclusive world. Terms such as ‘dumb’ or “retarded” are now frowned upon and unacceptable when referring to individuals with special needs. Further, deficit thinking under-utilizes talent and potential. Self-awareness, education, and eventual change involves being conscious and addressing one’s biases, using appropriate and empowering language and championing an inclusive agenda. Taken together, inappropriate language, low expectations, and marginalization all take away an individual’s dignity. In practice, inclusion can include intentionally thinking and identifying guest speakers or research participants during recruitment of staff and also when sampling research study participants, where possible. When presenting research or information, sign language interpreters can be part of the delivery team. Structural challenges are more daunting but creative ways can be incorporated to address mobility and access.

A game of charades lit a fire in us to become more sensitive about our research, communications and operations that can help us move towards a more inclusive future.

The author acknowledges the support of Caroline Thiongo, Catherine Asego and Vollan Ochieng.