People with intellectual disabilities are often viewed as some of the most powerless members of society. This is due to many factors including low literacy and other communication challenges that present barriers for individuals with cognitive impairments. However, one self-advocate named Eli Porter overcame those proverbial communications barriers by “spitting” his unique and original verses on YouTube “Rap Battles.” In the nine years since the original clip aired, Eli has become a viral internet hero earning more than 4 million “likes”, a documentary and many new clips. The most surprising outcome is that the overwhelming majority of his fans are not limited to other self-advocates, but now include millions of neuro-typical, dub-step-loving Millennials.
Since Eli’s YouTube “explosion”, he has had feature guest appearances with the likes of Soulja Boy, The Game and Nas. And while those of us born before 1995 may not recognize any of the famous rap monikers, Eli’s success marks a modern-day milestone and is the pinnacle of “Community Inclusion” earning him the title of “The People’s Champion.”
According to Stuart Schleien, Fredrick Green, and Charlsena Stone, the concept of inclusion is a continuum of three levels of acceptance. The first level is known as “physical integration.” Physical integration occurs when a “person’s right to access is recognized and assured.” That right is mandated by the Architectural Barrier’s Act of 1968. The second level of inclusion is known as “functional inclusion”. It refers to “an individual’s ability to function within a given environment” and is mandated by the ADA. The final and highest level of inclusion is known as “social inclusion.” Unfortunately, it cannot be legislatively mandated as it requires attitudinal changes, genuine acceptance and sincere appreciation from the greater community. Eli has managed to break through the highest “invisible barrier” by uniting a group of very diverse rap fans.
Young Mr. Porter has shown us the exponential power of the internet as an effective tool for self-advocacy. While perhaps unexpected, he is indeed a modern-day role-model. “The bar” for acceptable community inclusion has been forever raised. Going forward, inclusion must always be more than just “allowing people with intellectual disabilities to participate in an activity.” In order to experience full inclusion, the benefit of participation must be shared and valued by all parties involved including self-advocates, neuro-typical participants and the greater community. Hopefully, we are on the cusp of a deeper, more innate understanding of the essential truth that “we are far more alike than we are different.”