“Ask the disabled how best to include them”

(…) services that claim to be inclusive can be patronising or even oppressive. Some take a “tick-box approach” to arrive at this claim – they check off a list of general guidelines instead of asking how the constituents they want to serve will feel about the services offered.

Scholars of disability issues like Mr Paul Milner and Dr Berni Kelly have explained how inclusion can be potentially oppressive in ways that may not be obvious to the able-bodied. For example, chaperoning people with disabilities to highly public spaces is simplistic evidence of community participation – as it may come at the expense of their comfort or choice. People with disabilities may feel like they are being put under the spotlight when they may actually want to avoid unwanted public attention.

This raises the question whether service providers should assume that the “publicness” of the spaces and their level of visibility are important requirements for inclusion. If volunteers visit a special school, is this somehow considered less inclusive than if the special needs children are brought into a mainstream school or even just a public playground?

If so, this is doubly problematic. For it then assumes that “community” exists only in spaces that the majority occupies, and that mainstream settings are the only legitimate site for inclusion. Mr Milner and Dr Kelly argue that inclusion should also mean going into the spaces which are occupied by people with disabilities. They have challenged the “assumption that the path to social inclusion is unidirectional, involving people with disabilities making a journey to mainstream contexts without any expectation that non-disabled people need to make the return journey”.

Justin Lee, Research Fellow, and Wong Fung Shing, Research Assistant, at the Institute of Policy Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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