Social Inclusion and Learning Disabilities
Historically, people of all ages with learning disabilities have faced poor life chances, largely due to social exclusion. They’ve struggled with acceptance from mainstream society, facing stigmatisation, prejudice and even fear.
Social exclusion has been a major factor in many learning disabled people living a life of limited opportunity. Previously, many learning disabled people were removed from their communities and institutionalised. However, in developed countries there has been a move in recent years to take positive steps and change direction towards social inclusion for people with learning disabilities. This has involved steps such as care in the community and action toward greater integration amongst mainstream society.
The ethos behind this progression is to provide assistance and education for learning disabled people to gather the skills to live a less marginalised and more independent life within society, as well as learn about citizenship. For children, social inclusion also means finding ways for the child to integrate into mainstream state schools if the support is available.
Explaining Social InclusionThe term ‘social inclusion’ has come to replace older terminology, such as ‘community development work’. Social inclusion in practical terms means working within the community to tackle and avoid circumstances and problems that lead to social exclusion, such as poverty, unemployment or low income, housing problems and becoming housebound and isolated due to illness.
Quite often, social inclusion is self-perpetuating and becomes long-term due to a number of factors exacerbating each other. It can sometimes lead to additional problems such as mental illness. This can be especially true for people with learning disabilities who have no support or co-operation from within their community, and no means to help themselves.
What’s Being Done?Until fairly recently, families with relatives that have learning disabilities have relied on day centres for support. Whilst this supplies much-needed help, in a way it can add to the problem of social exclusion.
However, in the last decade the Government has taken steps to encourage social inclusion and self-centred planning, as well as modernising day services to help encourage independent living and social skills for forming meaningful relationships with a different groups of people. Their white paper ‘Valuing People’ set out the aims of the Government to ensure that progress was made in this previously problematic area.
The Government also hopes to improve links between day centres and employment schemes, to improve employment prospects and support in the workplace for people with learning disabilities. They also hope to provide better community-based links for access to good health care.
For children with learning disabilities, the Learning and Skills Council has moved toward equality in accessing education. If a parent wishes for their child to attend a mainstream state school, then the local authority and the school must evaluate the child’s needs and make provisions where possible.
CriticismsHowever, some learning disability groups believe that despite the Government’s plans to take action against social exclusion, not enough learning disabled people are benefiting. One of the main problems appears to be the slow or complete lack of change in attitude from people in society towards people with learning disabilities.
For instance there is often a misconception that many learning disabled people do not want to work, or are completely incapable of working. Access to public transport that could link people with learning disabilities with the community are also considered inadequate, with many moderately to profound learning disabled people left inactive and alone. The result is that groups and individual people with learning disabilities are hidden from their communities, and attitudes or prejudices are never forced to be addressed.
It is believed that more needs to be done to strengthen the support framework that enabled people with learning disabilities to achieve social inclusion. This can mean giving care staff the means to offer help and advice in activities such as job searches, providing better transport links and health services, and leisure facilities. It is believed that by more action being taken and issues exposed on a community-based grass-roots level, there can be more positive steps taken to achieving social inclusion for the otherwise ‘hidden’ community members.