Shifting our conceptualization of social inclusion

Virginie Cobigo, Hélène Ouellette-Kuntz, Rosemary Lysaght, Lynn Martin


Objective. Social inclusion is a right, as well as a goal for community-based services and supports. Yet, there is a lack of consensus as to what constitutes social inclusion which means that there is no real way to determine and measure services effectiveness. This paper aims to identify current key components, definitions and conceptual approaches to social inclusion, and determine gaps in the scope and clarity of existing conceptualizations.

Method. We conducted a synthesis review on the social inclusion of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We extracted data relevant to the definition of social inclusion, its key principles and elements, as well as its main challenges. We adopted a narrative approach to synthesize the findings.

Results. The main challenges in our understanding of social inclusion are: Social inclusion is at risk of being an ideology and may lead to ineffective and potentially harmful strategies; Social inclusion is still mainly defined as the acceptance and achievement of the dominant societal values and lifestyle which may lead to moralistic judgements; Social inclusion is often narrowly defined and measured as productivity and independent living, which is inappropriate for people with more severe disabilities; Social inclusion is often limited to the measure of one’s participation in community-based activities.

Conclusion and implications. Shifting our understanding of social inclusion is essential. It means: Adopting a pro-active perspective that moves beyond theoretical discourse and leads to the identification of tools to improve social inclusion; Abandoning the moralistic perspective that tends to impose the view of the dominant group and leaning toward an approach respectful of individuals' expectations, choices and needs; Defining social inclusion from a developmental perspective where one's social inclusion improves with increased opportunities to interact with others and participate in activities; Including sense of belonging and well-being to our definition and measure of social inclusion.


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