The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities supports full participation and inclusion of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in society. Social inclusion means access to opportunities for meaningful participation in life activities that reduce the impact of disability and promote human dignity. Although the social inclusion of those who are socially isolated is a human right, translating this right into reality for children and youth with I/DD remains a challenge.
There is a need to rewrite the narratives of social inclusion, social rights and social protection of children and youth with I/DD because they continue to be socially isolated despite advocacy efforts to create opportunities for meaningful contact between them and their peers without disabilities. Social inclusion is an important avenue for achieving psychological, physiological, spiritual, and social wellbeing. However, people with I/DD continued to be among the most isolated, discriminated against, and marginalized group in our society. They have continued to experience diminished social role and limited opportunity for full participation in the community.
Social inclusion at a time of social isolation is social justice. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the use of technology an essential and socially acceptable mode of communication and sharing of information and unfortunately, children and youth with I/DD have been left behind. They are often overlooked in the conversation about digital inclusion and are often not afforded with the opportunity for meaningful social and educational participation and engagement in the digital world. To address the stress that the current socio-political climate and pandemic has put on the already-stressed systems, coordinated actions and ensuring that the right people are in the room, can help with equity-based service and policy decisions during time of isolation. Social inclusion should be a priority in the recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Community makes us stronger and meaningful community participation and inclusion make us much stronger. Building meaningful social networks based on strong family, community, and social ties is crucial to the socio-emotional wellbeing of children and youth with I/DD. Creating opportunities for children and youth with I/DD to take part in meaningful social and educational activities will enhance their personal dignity and a sense of being an integrated part of their community. Developing partnerships with culturally diverse families and communities to promote shared decision-making ensure that supportive policies and programs are in place and in all settings for children and youth with I/DD. If we are to realize the social inclusion and human rights agenda of people with I/DD, we should challenge ourselves to engage in difficulty and honest conversations about our individual differences and not be on the sideline of any advocacy effort.
Reasons to promote social inclusion practice
- Social inclusion is a basic human right and not respecting it is a human wrong.
- Social inclusion is a process necessary for the protection of human right.
- The practice of social inclusion allows for equity and social justice.
- Social inclusion enables social connectedness and serves as protective factor.
- Social inclusion allows for fundamental freedom of all people with I/DD.
- Social inclusion provides opportunity to learn, build, and sustain relationships and competencies.
- Social exclusion subjects children and youth with I/DD to oppressive social conditions including poverty and violence.
- Social inclusion contributes to all human well-being and life chances, locally, nationally and globally.
Suggestions for promoting social inclusion practice
- Social and educational systems should increase their efforts on the implementation of sustainable social inclusion policies and provision of sustained access to quality and equitable education programs.
- Cultural knowledge and practice skills is necessary for social inclusion practice and allows for the people and collective practice of social inclusion within organizations and communities.
- Meaningful relationships, built on mutual respect, authenticity, and genuineness, is vital to social inclusion practice.
- Drawing from a person-centered service approach, social inclusion practice should be centered around a person’s need and not on institutional needs.
- Practice efforts to promote social inclusion for people with I/DD should include anti-discrimination and anti-stigma strategies.
- Eliminating systemic social barriers promotes social inclusion and equitable access to care for people with I/DD.
- Multi-agency collaboration is necessary in social inclusion practice.
- An integrated family systems approach and support is imperative in the promotion of social inclusion practice.
- From a social justice view of inclusion, people with I/DD should be included in educational and health programs development as well as legislative development of any issue that affects their lives.
- People with I/DD should not be define by their disabilities but by their abilities and afforded the opportunity to be a part of the decisions about their own future.
- People with I/DD should be provided with the equal opportunity for meaningful employment, pay, and career progression within their organizations.
- Centering the experiences of people with I/DD in practice, research, education, policy, and faith community activities without placing them as victims or viewing them as incompetent and unable to make meaningful contribution to their community, is social justice and creates a culture that celebrates diversity and different abilities.
The Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice (APA Division 37) has continued to develop task forces to address specific issues affecting children, youth, and families. Division 37’s Diverse, Racial, Ethnic, and Multicultural Special Interest Group (DREAM SIG) is committed to engaging its members in meaningful collaboration and exchange on local, national, and international levels so they can actively advocate for social justice, inclusion, service delivery and public policies impacting children and youth, with and without I/DD, and their families. The SIG recently created three subgroups that target each of the SIG’s three focus area; 1. Training and Education, 2. Community Outreach and Engagement, and 3. Information Dissemination. SIG members were assigned to the subgroups based on their interests. Each subgroup will meet for a shared discussion and engage in coordinated advocacy activities that center around their subgroup focus area and that promote health equity with underserved, marginalized, and vulnerable children, youth, and families.