We are all a part of a community; in fact we are a part of many communities, our neighborhood, our town, our county, our state and our nation. Most everyone wants to participate and be integrated into these communities, but it is harder for some groups. The elderly, the handicapped, the infirm, and even the youth can be easily disenfranchised. Into this group we can include the unemployed, those with financial hardships, those with little education or skills and those who are discriminated against for reasons of sex, race, ethnic origin, creed or sexuality. There is a need to establish programs to include their needs in our societies, so let’s look first at how social inclusion is defined. Here is how it is defined by the City of Latrobe, Victoria, Australia – “Social inclusion aims to help people feel valued and provides opportunities to participate in their community.”
But social inclusion can also be defined by what it is not:
“Social exclusion is the process of being shut out from the social, economic, political and cultural systems which contribute to the integration of a person into the community” – Dept. of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia.
We are all at times a bit disenfranchised from decisions that are made without our input, by our elected officials. Our societies are often divided into two groups, the “haves” and the “have nots”. Our politicians make decisions for us: they are the ‘haves’ and we are the ‘have nots’ and we are frustrated in our desires to have our opinions and needs and wants listened to. That is why it is so important that residents are given an opportunity to state their views and preferences. A good way of including everyone is to offer shuttle buses or pickups for those segments of our society that don’t have the ability to get to public meetings, .
There was one elected official in a large city in the United States who represented a ward (which was comprised of 60,000 people, hence the equivalent of a small town). He set up a volunteer organisation called the Ward Assembly and every precinct (a smaller subdivision comprised of 500-1000 voters) in the ward elected two representatives. All sorts of topics were discussed that would be brought up in the larger city council meetings. He promised that he would always abide by a 2/3’s majority vote by the representatives no matter if he, personally, opposed this vote. It was a true exercise in social inclusion and the ward operated successfully in this way for eight years.
Further, he set up a separate organisation for support of independent candidates for office (of any party) who were good candidates. The organisation also centred on community matters and lent its strength of numbers and expertise to those who were battling important issues that affected them in their neighborhood, but for which they didn’t have the power or the voice to battle alone.
Obvious answers to many of our social exclusions are in local recreational community programs that are run and funded by government. These programs can address recreational needs of our citizens which are less costly (or free) than what we would have to pay for a private class or program. Adult education programs allow people to explore arts and crafts or painting that they had never had the opportunity to try before, or to discuss a book or a political point of view. They can study history or take a class in ballet, Yoga or Zumba. They can thus have some of the advantages that their richer counterparts have.
Youths are sometimes the most marginalised, especially those from disadvantaged homes. Local municipalities can do a great service by providing teen centres (hopefully supervised) that can offer programs and recreational activities, perhaps sports or art programs and be a gathering place where they can feel comfortable with their peers. These types of programs contribute to keeping kids out of the streets and out of trouble.
As for seniors, some of them have lost many friends and family and community programs are a way of meeting new people and sharing ideas. Councils can provide shuttle buses (or coordinate a system of volunteers) to pick up seniors or other infirm or disabled people, as that might be their only way of participating in social programs.
Senior Citizens and the disabled share some of the same problems of mobility and lack of transportation. Here is how Latrobe City handled inclusion of the disabled into their community:
Each year they hold a community meeting to identify ways to improve the lives of disabled people. They include the disabled in their discussions as well as including representatives from disability organisations. Issues and possible actions are explored and submitted for inclusion in the development of an annual ‘Disability Action Plan’. Some other solutions to the problems of the disabled are:
- Improve understanding about the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities
- Work with community organisations to develop policies and practices which include the disabled
- Work out easy ways for people to access the information they need about services and community activities.
Finally, social inclusion is a RIGHT, no one has to pass a test or meet a set of criteria before they are included. A corollary to this is that some of us need more support than others at various times.