Inclusive communities are not the norm in society. Even with accessibility laws like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the norm is to claim not enough money as a way to opt out of meeting those laws. Yet it takes a community to heal a brain injury. It takes inclusive communities to knit people with brain injury into the fabric of society. In that way, they can contribute while being supported.
Community comes in many forms, including online with people you don’t personally know. Online communities are probably the closest we humans have come to creating inclusive spaces. And without aiming to be a community that includes people with brain injury, National Novel Writing Month is an excellent example of one that does.
National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo):
“believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.”About NaNoWriMo
Inclusivity is the concept of creating a system or online community that includes everyone.
NaNoWriMo, whether it intended to or not, created an inclusive community where people of all ages, all talents, all abilites, all diversities are welcome. People can be themselves in all their brain-injury glory. They can explore their fiction-writing talent, write their story in a few words or thousands, or turn their words into a book.
Support Through Community
Many with brain injury want to write, but they need support. NaNoWriMo provides support through a myriad of ways.
- Pep talks by published writers and previous NaNoWriMo participants
- Plot generators
- Writing prompts
- Sponsor offers and winner goodies
- Goal setting
- Accountability trackers
- Personalized novel pages
- Writing statistics
- Writing buddies
- And municipal liaisons
Liaisons organize local social events that encourage people to write and to socialize around writing.
Pressing The Initiation Go Button
People with brain injury also often need someone to press their Go button, to initiate their thoughts into action. NaNoWriMo through their Twitter channels and YouTube WriteIns do that. The former provide round-the-clock word sprint activities through a special Twitter feed. The person in charge of the Twitter feed will provide a writing prompt and the amount of time to write in. They’ll announce go; at the end they’ll announce time’s up and ask for word counts and/or examples of what people wrote. The same goes for the YouTube WriteIns. The difference being that the latter is like a virtual version of a group.
A planet full of people all talking, writing, encouraging each other is just the ticket to initiate — lots and lots of external stimulation to get people into their chairs to write until goals achieved.
Turning Solitary Into Social
Writing is solitary. Professional authors will disappear into their writing nooks — an office, a coffee shop, a separate heated outdoor shed — to focus on writing their latest book. But after brain injury, solitary activities become almost impossible to do. They require internal motivation, tough self-discipline, and long-lasting concentration. Brain injury isolates people, and so solitary endeavours become less attractive. Too much time alone doesn’t make one yearn for more, even if it is for something fulfilling.
NaNoWriMo provides externally what professional authors have internally — and what brain injury takes from almost everyone who’s had the misfortune to suffer this catastrophe, whether it’s concussion, hemorrhage, stroke, tumours, or other reasons — the Go button. By motivating everyone who wants to try a little creativity, NaNoWriMo motivate brain-injured people, too.
Working on something creative will stimulate an injured brain, as well as improving mood. It can help a person express subconscious feelings and thoughts.
Plunging into an online community that includes everyone provides respite from the external world that excludes people with brain injury. Unlike the external world, it doesn’t inhibit, limit, or judge. It doesn’t mandate a certain level of cognition, normal affect, good anger control, or speech ability to participate.
People talk about social media interfering with one’s real-life social life. But when friends and family drop away after brain injury, social media and online inclusive community events like NaNoWriMo provide belonging again. In addition, feeling better comes from being able to cheer on the success of others while being cheered on, too. This happens through using the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter or following writing buddies or joining in Camp NaNoWriMo groups in the April and July events.
Participating regularly both gives a person something to look forward to and stimulates cognitive changes. Brains support brains. And stimulation that harnesses the power of our human social biology can only be good for our cognitive capacity. A person can track progress over the years in this way as well, giving them a sense of progress and achievement.
That’s what inclusive communities do. They welcome everybody. They restore belonging. They help people with brain injury find out what they can do. And they may help neurons heal.
How To Make A Community Inclusive
So how do we each make our own small part of a community inclusive? The first step is education. Begin with reading the education pages on this website. Buy or borrow books from the library. Read blogs and Twitter feeds by people with brain injury. And most of all, listen and believe the person you know with brain injury.
Education doesn’t always lead to understanding. To do that, listen with patience. Ask questions of people who are willing to share their own experiences. Also, meet with a person’s health care team if that’s possible. Think about and write down all the questions. Specialists want to teach!
Once you acquire knowledge, then you can design accommodation. For example, accommodating brain injury anger begins with the knowledge that it’s not an anger management problem. It’s part of the injury. Like specialists, keep calm during it, listen, don’t take it personally, and you’ll find it vanishes as quickly as it arose. Learn de-escalation techniques. Actually, everyone should learn them in school because we all need it at one time or another. Maybe we can begin as adults in the community.
Figure out how to allow people with slow processing, fatigue, cognition issues, and so on can participate. We’ve learnt during 2020 that virtual events make it possible for people with brain injury to “get out and socialize.” They can attend concerts, talks, meetings, chit-chat. And so can people with small children, people who have elderly parents at home who need continual monitoring, people on the go. Make virtual part of the social and working fabric of life.
Cheer on successes no matter how small you think they are. And help people out. Giving to others and participating in their rehab rewards immeasurably. But we’ve been conditioned to think we have no time. 2020 proved relationships matter more than time and work.
These are only a few ideas.