Community Integration for Children with Disabilities
What is community integration?
Community integration is achieved when children with disabilities participate in activities in their community and are assimilated with their able-bodied peers. Community integration also refers to participation; which is engagement in social relationships, leisure activities, and community activities (King et al., 1999) with any peer group. Children with disabilities are not considered fully integrated by simply being with their peers; rather, it is their interaction and active participation with other children that aids integration. Finally, community integration is a human right. The United Nations:
“ensure(s) that the disabled child has effective… recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development” (United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, 1997).
What are the barriers to integration?
Barriers to community integration exist at different levels; there are architectural/physical barriers, institutional barriers and attitudinal barriers that inhibit children from fully participating in their community (Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2007).
Architectural/Physical barriers: the physical environment is not accessible to children with disabilities (e.g., inaccessible community centers prevent children from entering the building)
Institutional barriers:organizational policies or practices restrict the involvement of children with disabilities (e.g., strict time commitments for activities prevent children with scheduled appointments from participating)
Attitudinal barriers:people discriminate against children with disabilities and restrict participation (e.g., bullying from peers)
Despite these barriers, it is important to recognize the benefits of participation in order to promote action towards integrating children with disabilities into the community.
What are the benefits of integration?
There is a lot of research on the benefits and positive effects of community integration and participation on children and adolescents with disabilities. Engaging in community activities facilitates the intellectual, physical and social growth of children with disabilities (Washington, Wilson, Engel, & Jensen, 2007). In addition, interacting with peers helps develop socially appropriate behaviours and skills (King et al., 1999), and contributes to building friendships and relationships. These outcomes contribute to an increase in self-esteem and positive views of the self (Washington et al., 2007).
How do we achieve community Integration?
According to disability thinkers, people with disabilities cannot participate in society because of institutional inequality, physical barriers and discriminatory social policies, attitudes and behaviours (Hammell, 2006). In order to promote community integration the following sectors must address these barriers in creative and complementary ways: national, provincial and municipal governments, businesses, professionals, educators and the media. Steps have already been taken in a positive direction; The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care is promoting change through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005.
Participation is also achieved by identifying the diverse needs of children across the disability spectrum and supporting these special needs in the community (Solish, Minnes, & Kupferschmidt, 2003). Children may experience personal barriers to community integration that lie outside the scope of institutional powers. It is the responsibility of local communities to become involved in local efforts to remove these barriers in an effort to enhance participation. For example, some children with disabilities face transportation issues and cannot go back and forth to community centres (Solish et al., 2003). There are many solutions to such an issue; some include arranging an accessible van service or considering the location of community events. Furthermore, local communities can be a force of positive change for individuals with disabilities at a national level by becoming active in addressing accessibility issues, advocating for barrier-free services and community events, and ensuring their voices are heard.
By Asiya Baksh, Student OT
- King, G., Law, M., King, S., Rosenbaum, P., Kertoy, M., & Young, N. (1999).
The participation of children with physical disabilities. Keeping Current. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from http://www.canchild.ca/Default.aspx?tabid=134
- Hammell, K.W. (2006). Perspectives on disability & rehabilitation. Toronto: Elsevier.
- Ministry of Community and Social Services. (2007). Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities.
Retrieved May 25, 2008, from http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/english/topics/pop_ado_barriers.htm
- Solish, A. Minnes, P., & Kupferschmidt, A. (2003). Integration of children with developmental disabilities in social activities. Journal of Developmental Disabilities, 10, 115-122.
- United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. (1997). Convention on the rights of the child. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm
- Washington, L.A., Wilson, S., Engel, J.M., & Jensen, M.P. (2007). Development and preliminary evaluation of a paediatric measure of community integration: The Paediatric Community Participation Questionnaire (PCPQ). Rehabilitation Psychology, 52, 241-245.