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Participation Through Inclusion

If you took a trip to the Disneyland Resort, what would do you? Would you do anything at all or do nothing? Would you, at least,  stop by at Main Street City Hall for a Special Occasion button or you will just walk around the resort and then leave?

What if that trip was to a nearby Starbucks or neighborhood store? Would your purpose be to only do a "walkthrough" or to do something relevant to your destination? Certainly, that will depend on the purpose of your trip. Now, let’s translate the scenario into the direct support context of supporting people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The purpose of most community trips and engagements in direct support is to foster community integration which is the core of the wholesale social movement of supporting people with special needs. Does either inclusion or participation serve the  purpose of community integration or the  both would do?

When a direct support professional (DSP) accompanies a person receiving disabilities services into the community or neighborhood location and return a couple of hours later, the DSP will more likely be said to have engaged in or explored community inclusion with the person who was accompanied. This is so because of the broad definition of the term.

Community inclusion is essentially an exposure to the unrestricted common spaces to which every community member has access. If you consider this emphasis, you will realize that access to a community park, the neighborhood Starbucks or provision store, or even a distant and costly trip to the Disneyland indicate nothing much other than the fact that you are included in the right to be at those locations.

In short, community inclusion is mostly defined in terms of accessing the community as you should in ways that do not exclude you. The purpose of a trip or engagement, if it is about community integration, is not achieved if you are only venturing into the wilderness of the community to access its inclusiveness.

This is not to say that community inclusion serves no purpose. In fact, community inclusion helps with exposure -- exploring and connecting with discoveries that stimulate the individual into appreciating the inclusive experience.

Community inclusion trips to new destinations and activities are important in expanding on an individual’s preference through the exploration of locations, things or activities that educate, excite, stimulate or motivate the individual into increasing existing involvement, renewing experience, or contributing to the community or his/her own life.

But to foster community integration, it is essential that you encourage the sense of belongingness to the community. A sense of belonging will hardly be achieved by merely continuously witnessing the community, but instead it requires the creation of circumstances that will make the individual feel as a part of the community as appropriately as possible. Also, this cannot be achieved when the focus is squarely placed on trying to make the individual ‘fit in’ instead of ‘belonging.’

Would you rather feel belong at the Disneyland Resort  during your trip there or you would prefer to ‘fit in’ by being like everyone else around you?

To ‘fit in’ will more likely mean that you will have to do whatever it takes to match the popular or prevailing theme. If fitting in is your thing, you will have to reinvent yourself as often as possible.

For people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, fitting in will mean that you have to create the context for them to relearn almost every time a new destination or activity is visited in order to fit in. While this is not impossible, it becomes counterproductive to the direct support process in terms of focusing on other things that are far more important such as belonging.

Belongingness is a human need and it is essentially about being a part of a community that, as a whole, is greater than the individual person. Together, inclusion and participation serve that need. Do not allow a person with disabilities to be a tourist in his/her own community. Use the discoveries from community inclusion to foster the individual’s participation in his/her community in ways that reflect the person’s unique circumstances. 

It is less of a community inclusion to visit the same location or activity every time every day. Community inclusion opportunities are meant for exposures, education, and stimulation. Consistent inclusion opportunities increase the prospect for participation, but it is unlikely that visits to the same park or store will yield any stimulation or any new exposure if condition there introduces nothing new. Visiting new locations and activities can be exciting and rewarding for a lot of people.   

If the person can verbalize his/her choice or can choose from visuals of frequently destinations or activities, or the circumstance necessitates that you facilitate the choice-making process in a way that is unique to that individual, that's your best bet. Consider the following examples to better understand the difference between the two:

A single community inclusion opportunity may serve different purposes for different individuals. For instance, one individual may like to visit the park to relax, watch events or activities unfold, or just to enjoy the change of scenery while another individual may indulge in recreation as desired and appropriate. The idea is to capitalize on the discoveries of the individual's preferences to facilitate their involvement in further exploration in ways that enhance their physical and emotional wellbeing.

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