I think that many people mistake inclusion for exclusion (seriously!). Including someone in an activity is not achieved by simply extending an invitation, but by ensuring that this person has the option of actually attending without being negatively affected. By extending an invitation to someone you know for a fact cannot attend because it would be dangerous for them, then you are actively excluding that person. In those cases, it would be better to say nothing at all. I've met people who truly believe that inviting my family to attend an ice cream party (which is poison to my child) is the epitome of inclusion, knowing full well that we would have to decline. It's not only cruel, but also irresponsible to take my child to an ice cream party where she would have to watch other kids enjoy something she is so deathly allergic to and be unable to interact with anyone lest they touch her with cross-contaminated hands. People often think that children with food allergies feel excluded because they long to have food others are enjoying but it's really more complex than that. Most children with life-threatening food allergies are actually afraid of the food they are allergic to, and with good reason. Others around them often do not understand this fear and those who do often choose to ignore it. This dynamic is what makes these children feel excluded. They feel as if they don't belong because it seems like their safety is not important or inconvenient to others. Is it so hard to recognize that this is actually exclusion? Is it really okay to subject a seven year old to that?
I've met day care staff and summer camp coordinators who confidently state that they do not discriminate but include ALL children in their activities. In reality they discriminate amongst children based on food allergies and other medical conditions. Daycares have an un-written rule about accepting a child who comes with a subsidy over the one who doesn't. Summer camps take children with "easy allergies" such as nut and shellfish. Let me tell you something. Living with any food allergy, regardless of the type, is NOT easy. Any camp coordinator worth their salt knows that a public area cannot be guaranteed as safe for children with food allergies. Please don't tell me that it is safe for a child with a peanut allergy as opposed to one with dairy. If you think others will walk into a space drinking milk, what makes it any less likely that they would walk in eating granola bars, peanuts or almonds?
The "easy allergy" argument is illogical and, quite frankly, retarded. Just come out and say what you mean: it's too much work to care for a child with food allergies and you don't want to do it; it's a challenge to look after someone with food allergies and you're not up to the challenge. Yet those people continue to pat themselves on the back for being an "allergy friendly" establishment. They mislead nut-allergic individuals into thinking that their facility is safe simply because they have signs everywhere claiming that the premises are nut free. Again, the reality is that this area is not nut free at all. Unless they have trained dogs and implement bag checks, it would be impossible to know who is eating what in that area. They choose to believe that a peanut-allergic child is easier to deal with than a dairy-allergic child. They boast that they are inclusive and advocate for equality when they are doing the exact opposite. That's hypocrisy.
Perhaps the concept of inclusion is better understood in school settings. Where my daughter goes to school, teachers implement creative methods to include all students in classroom activities. If one activity poses a threat to a child or will make them feel left out, the teacher switches the activity to something that can be inclusive of all the students in the class. Some teachers prefer activities that are non-food related altogether to ensure that any children with food allergies can safely be involved. I'm not saying that my daughter's school is perfect, but the staff I currently deal with have been very understanding of our situation. I consider her school to be a leader and role model for other schools on how to manage life-threatening allergies in an educational setting. The staff understand that in order to keep children with allergies safe, we (parents and school staff) have to work together as a team. For example, during holiday celebrations, I work with the teacher to bake safe cookies and provide safe icing for the entire class. Unsafe food and special treats are consumed in another area and not allowed inside the classroom. That's an example of inclusion.
That being said, schools still struggle to make their environments inclusive of all children. In some cases, a food allergic child is seated alone in a separate area away from classmates during lunch or sent to the library while the class is involved in a food related activity where the food contains allergens. This is clearly an act of exclusion. I find that most schools in our little city fail to understand the true meaning of inclusion. Very few are willing to accommodate children with food allergies. Fewer still are the schools that make an effort to be inclusive. My daughter's school is among the few that try to be inclusive most of the time and at the very least are able to accommodate the need to keep her safe. Despite that, we are still excluded from attending the big school events such as after school barbecues and other socials. Not all events that include food are planned with food allergies in mind, especially when the allergy in question is something other than peanut.
I know people, among them family members, who let me know that they are having a birthday party or a barbecue, and that they would love for us to attend but that we CANNOT because it would be unsafe for my child. Again, they think that by inviting us to the party that they are actually including us and giving us the choice to attend. The choice they are providing is not a choice at all. What sane parent would put their child in danger? I feel insulted by people who extend invitations knowing that my family cannot attend. Making sure the event is safe for our daughter to attend - THAT is inclusion. Simply making us aware of the event is NOT inclusion. Working with me to make sure the birthday party is safe for my daughter is what inclusion is all about. So next time, if you plan on inviting our child to a party that you know could kill her and you don’t plan on making concessions, don’t bother. If you are that person then I'm not looking to be part of your social circle and you're certainly not welcome in mine.