Social ramps are efforts by the social environment to provide access. The word “ramp” is used metaphorically to help with understanding that we are “building” something which changes the environment (social in this case) such that people have access. Social ramps are “built” in three steps. One first prepares the social environment, one then educates the social environment and then one coaches the social environment.
Preparation involves talking to the social environment about the changes to that environment that are on the horizon. This is more easily done within smaller groups such as organizations (churches, or social groups having common values). Leadership describes that changes to the social interaction patterns that are about to occur.
Education then occurs where the leadership provides examples of what types of behaviors are going to be increasingly tolerated or accepted describing how the differences might appear in specific social situations. They might also provide background which informs why toleration and openness to change is necessary. It is important to note, we are talking about social skill deficits not what might be considered immoral behavior, however, this will be more or less of an issue depending upon the group. Education can relate to aspects of the life experience of a person leading to social skill deficits (disability, mental illness, etc.). It also discusses what might be expectations for change within a particular individual. We want to both attempt to assist the individual to improve their social skills while simultaneously educating the environment towards change. We are actually attempting to change the social skills of the social environment as well, assisting it to be more tolerant of what has been called “asociality.” For those familiar with this terminology, it is also an amalgam of social and medical models of disabiliy.
Finally, coaching occurs for all members of the social community. This includes those with and without social skill deficits, and it includes correction and praise. The greatest desire of coaching as an aspect of developing social ramps is acceptance and inclusion of people with social skill deficits.
By way of example, imagine a religious setting where people are used to largely quiet participation in the service. Then someone with autism and their family comes into the social setting. The comfort of the tradition of a quiet service is threatened. Responses could be to reject/exclude the individual with autism or to facilitate a change in the social environment. Social ramps in this situation can be built with preparation, education and coaching. Perhaps the pastor tells the congregation, “We are going to have a family with a member with autism among us. This is going to change the quiet we have been used to in the past. But I want you to know that I am excited to have this family among us and hope you will reach out to them as well.” At an appropriate time, the leader then provides education. “Do you know that people with autism and their families often live in social isolation? They are desperate to find places where they can be accepted and develop friendships with other people and families. I know of a family who were rejected from 4 congregations who would not accept their family member with a disability.” Finally leadership facilitates the interactions that are desired. “I want you to feel free to ask the family with the autistic member how you might be of assistance to them. I want you to do your best to greet and interact with the person with autism. I know in our fellowship that we have special education teachers and other disability professionals. I know we also have people who are family members or friends of persons with disabilities. I am hoping you all will step up to both provide an example of how to include someone with a social skill deficit and help others to do the same. When you hear the person with autism make a noise during worship, I want you to think about our priority for inclusion over the past priority of a quiet service. Think about your reaction to that noise and work on developing a new reaction reflecting our value of inclusion.”
The development of these kinds of social ramps will ultimately benefit everyone and change the social setting to one that is more loving and accepting. But it will be extremely difficult! To change something as entrenched as interpersonal social relations will cause many to abandon your group because it is so much work. But the change in all in the environment is an outcome that all would desire.