Social Inclusion

“Inclusion is a right, not a privilege for the select few” – Unknown

Society has come a long way in terms of their understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. While there is still significant room for improvement, it is reasonable to state that for many people with disabilities, most communities have taken significant steps to ensure that they are accepted, included and provided with the same opportunities as all members of the community.

However, we are still aware of a particular imbalance in regards to how society sees and understands ‘disability’. While society is growing more familiar with disabilities, this tends to mainly relate to people with ‘classic’ disabilities – which usually fit into the physical category (eg. Physical disabilities, vision impairment, etc.) When it comes to disabilities such as autism and intellectual disability, we detect a significant reduction in terms of the understanding and acceptance of these within society.

People with these disabilities and their carers have cited significant experiences where they do not receive the same level of understanding extended to those who, for example, may be in a wheelchair or using obvious disability aids. Invisible disabilities such as these tend to polarise public opinion much more, with many regarding them as simply behavioural issues which should not be extended the same level of tolerance or inclusiveness as physical disabilities. We are observing this across all aspects of society, including employment, education, and broader social inclusion in recreational activities.

An approach to social inclusion of people with disabilities based on Universal Design is important in addressing both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as making significant strides towards a more comprehensive and in-depth approach to social inclusion. Based on the concept of universal access, designing education, employment, infrastructure and community building activities so that all levels and forms of disability can be accommodated for without the obvious need for modification or adjustment means that people with disabilities are not restricted from involvement, and furthermore, not seen as requiring special treatment to be involved in their communities.

The current initiatives taking place in regards to education session in Mental Health are a positive example of how we can lift community awareness and knowledge around disability issues, and consequently improve the effectiveness of social inclusion opportunities.

Community Inclusion is not about just about being physically present in the community or living in a house in the community, when envisioning community inclusion for people with disabilities, it is about community membership–”being part of the community”.

Being part of the community means that a person with a disability is:

  • Well known within the community-they may be a regular customer at a coffee shop, the bank or local supermarket
  • They feel safe in that environment
  • Relationships are reciprocal with others
  • There is a sense of belonging
  • A person has social connections and networks within the community
  • The person is asked to participate and work with others within the community
  • The person’s views are valued within their community

Community inclusion is seen as part of the paradigm shift in the disability sector, and the practice of community inclusion has the following key elements:

  • Relationship building and relationship development between people with and without disabilities
  • Focus on people with disabilities as individuals with lifestyle choices, interests and desires
  • People with disability have life goals they set, change and aspire to with support from formal and informal networks in the community
  • People with disability actively participating in their lives, e.g. shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills etc
  • People with disability supported (if needed) to actively participate in their community e.g. vote, take part in council reference groups or other local groups such as dog walking etc

Often, “community inclusion” is confused with “community tourism”. Community tourism is when people with disabilities are driven around in a “special” bus, going shopping or maybe attending a swimming program, they are physically present in the community-but have little or no interaction with other members of the community.

The best way in which to assist an individual with a disability to be included in the community is to find out their interests and passions and to find a like-minded group within the community, thus, making it more conducive for the person to build genuine reciprocal relationships with other community members.

In a post NDIS era, the segregation and congregation of people with disabilities is no longer acceptable. Community inclusion means weaving a new tapestry for people with disabilities, with all its’ achievements, struggles and times where the pathway may be fraught with heartaches, but also with the joys and laughter that everyone experiences throughout life.

Knowledge is power!

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