It is clear that people can be present in community without being socially included. Being socially included means that a number of things are present in people’s lives. Social inclusion means that people:
- Experience a sense of belonging
- Are accepted (for who they are) within their communities
- Have valued roles in the community
- Are actively participating in the community
- Are involved in activities based on their personal preferences
- Have social relationships with others whom they chose and share common interests
- Have friends
When people experience some or all of these conditions in their life they are more likely to be happier and healthier. In fact, social inclusion is an important “determinant of health” – without inclusion, people are more likely to experience poor health (including poor mental health), loneliness, isolation, and poor self esteem.
Many people with disabilities unnecessarily experience life quite differently. They may not have a “sense of presence” in the community and may not have access to activities they prefer or desire. People lack opportunities to work, play, learn and develop social relationships with others (particularly with people who do not have a disability). People with disabilities are often not acknowledged in the community, or if they are, it may be in a negative way. Too often, people do not have close friends with whom they can share their desires, time and lives.
How does this lack of social inclusion for people with disabilities get addressed? There are many possible pathways to inclusion. The good news is that we are getting better as a society in opening up our schools and workplaces to people with disabilities. New Brunswick has one of the best inclusive education systems in the country and this holds much promise for inclusion in the broader society. While there are still many barriers to employment, forward thinking workplaces are slowly recognizing the real contributions that people with disabilities can make. Recreation holds particular promise for achieving true inclusion because of the meaningful connections that recreation can facilitate.