A community that excludes even one member is no community at all, said Pope Francis
Exclusion of any type disconnects individuals from social relations and puts a limit on their full participation in the activities that are assigned by society according to norms and conventions.
Though there have been improvements in our country over the last few years, disabled people and their families confront isolation and exclusion and remain on the fringes of society. Multiple barriers hinder their amalgamation into the mainstream. From architectural and technological to financial, obstacles of all kinds restrict their integration.
An ‘embarrassment factor’ remains evident among the non-disabled when they became self-conscious and awkward in the presence of a disabled person, although one in ten of the population has a disability.
Their multidimensional social exclusion is linked not only to income and expenditure but also to activity status, educational attainment, housing, health, assistive technology, transportation, lack of access to the labour market and the social environment.
A wide range of public and private services remain out of their reach.
Unless there is self-reflection and self-criticism, inclusion cannot be brought in. An inclusive attitude and behaviour demand us to overthrow prejudices and raze down the barriers.
What is social inclusion?
Inclusion is a belief. It is not a project or a programme but a philosophy. Inclusion means respect for you, for me and everyone. Inclusion sees us as a person; sees that we exist.
A socially inclusive environment is one where everyone is welcome and permitted to establish their identity and express their feelings. Social inclusion assures that one’s opinions and experiences are honoured like anyone else’s.
With social inclusion, people:
• Feel associated,
• Are acknowledged, accepted and recognised for who they are within their communities,
• Feel worthy of their roles in the community,
• Actively participate in the community,
• Have the right to choose their activities based on their personal preferences,
• Have the right to choose their social relationships where they choose and share common interests,
• Have companions and don’t feel left out nor be treated as an inconvenience.
Continuous exposure to discrimination could lead to the internalisation of the prejudice – which may be manifested in shame, poor self-esteem, fear and stress, as well as poor mental and physical health.
This may also impede their decision-making abilities. If every person is accepted wholeheartedly, without a feeling of unfairness and injustice, they do not hesitate to take risks and responsibilities – leading to the development of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Being socially included means that a number of things are present in people’s lives. When people experience these conditions, 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 mental health, loneliness, isolation, and poor self-esteem.
Social inclusion involves:
• Making products, communications, and the physical environment more usable by as many people as possible, i.e. Universal Design
• Modifying and retrofitting items, procedures, or systems that would make a person with a disability
• Bringing awareness and shattering the stigma that surrounds disability
The prerequisite for achieving social inclusion is the involvement of inputs from people with disabilities along with disability-focused and independent organisations and government agencies in the programme or structural design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
Non-disabled as well as disabled children would equally benefit from being in the same educational environment. The achievement of an inclusive education implies equal provision of the educational, the technical, and the personal for each student in academic and extracurricular activities.
An inclusive education is at the basis of an inclusive society. To make India better and positive for the largest minority, i.e. for millions of persons with disabilities, we ought to encourage mediation, dialogues and action about measures required to boost equal opportunities.
The challenge is to deliver for people with disabilities not just life, but a quality of life; and to identify and provide them with their citizenship rights in a real sense by offering opportunities for full social inclusion.
Inclusion can and does happen when people have positive attitudes as well as the willingness to make it happen.
(Written by Abha Khetarpal and edited by Vinayak Hegde)