Guest Author: Callie Anderson
Every TASH intern is required to complete what is called an “Intern Final Project” where we are to conduct a fieldwork research project as a means of applying our learning in a real-world context. This is an opportunity to be creative and there have been wonderful examples of that in the past. Interns have done things like interview individuals with disabilities and their families, examine the accessibility of subway lines, neighborhood restaurants, movie theatres and other public sites. Others have done things like create training programs and interview law enforcement officials about their experiences and relationships with individuals with I/DD.
I was hoping to look a bit deeper into the idea of social inclusion and community participation as it relates to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). With greater specificity, I wanted to explore the question “what types of social inclusion should be considered to allow for greater independence for those on the spectrum or related disorders?” as it connotes to the overall quality of life of persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities. I did some fairly thorough research on the subject and found that a combination of quantitative and qualitative data can often be useful for understanding processes of social inclusion and exclusion. Quantitative data can capture the extent to which socially excluded groups disadvantaged or analyze the share of individuals who lack access to resources like income and employment. But to understand most processes of social exclusion, qualitative information is needed for instance, to analyze why certain groups are not given employment or do not seek involvement in the community or even how discrimination is experienced by excluded groups. For that reason, I knew an interview would be my best method of data collection.
While the research got me to think about the perks of the interview method, an opportunity to carry out this work presented itself when the topic of my study came up in a meeting with Travis Akins. He explained his program called Growth Through Opportunity (GTO) which takes young adults with unique challenges (including those with I/DD) through a program designed for them to gain valuable social experience and job skills by volunteering for the police department and other local law enforcement. The aim of his program captured my research question perfectly, so Donald and I made a (very long) trip to the GTO program based out of Lynchburg, Virginia. We were privileged to watch the Cadet’s uniform fitting and were given the opportunity to interview two cadets and the Lynchburg County Sheriff about the program; the interview encompassing some essential questions to my research.
Generally speaking, while lots of research focuses on describing problems as they relate to social inclusion, much less focuses on solutions to these problems and I have found that several authors attribute this to the lack of a clear definition for social inclusion. Thus, the goal of my research was to solidify a definition and use it as a means of looking at solutions. The interview brought up a strong theme relating to what it means to belong and be of the community as opposed to in the community and also gave the individuals an opportunity to define social inclusion (an essential step in examining its importance). The interview also gave me the opportunity to ask a series of (what research has indicated are) essential questions in determining a socially inclusive community as well as whether or not a program aimed at promoting social inclusion and community participation embodies the principles determined to do just that. There are said to be seven levels involved in the social inclusion process: individual, household, community, local, national, regional, and global. GTO was a wonderful example of a program that allowed for greater independence for those on the spectrum or related disorders but can also cross off their list of accomplishments as being a program that is achieving a boundless step toward global social inclusion. And as I finish with my final project, I am able to take my research in combination with the data collected from GTO and make a statement about the types of social inclusion that should be considered to allow for greater independence for those on the spectrum or with related disorders.