Five Dimensions of Inclusion

When I first began working as a support worker my perception of inclusion was very different than the view I hold now. My picture of inclusion was people with disabilities finding other people with disabilities and having fun, but not much beyond that. I don’t really know why this was my view, I live with a disability myself and this isn’t my idea of being included in society – but that’s all I thought disability service providers did. This is a very common belief and service model in the disability sector and while this isn’t necessarily ‘wrong’, it isn’t the full picture of inclusive activity.

When researching activities for your clients, best practice is to consider John O’Brien’s Five Dimensions of Inclusion. As you read this article consider how you may feel if one of these dimensions were not a part of your life.
Five Dimensions of Inclusion
The first dimension is choice and control. You may hear this a lot in the context of the NDIS, and I believe it is the most important value to consider in supporting clients. We are all entitled to have power over our lives, day to day and beyond. If a client is unable to exercise choice and control over an activity, it simply cannot be inclusive because you are fundamentally failing to include your client.

The next dimension is belonging. This is to do with the personal relationships involved in an activity, not professional relationships. For example, taking a client to the library does not facilitate belonging even though they may be interacting with you and the librarian in this activity. Taking a client to the library to participate in a knitting club enables your client to develop personal relationships and feel as if they belong.

The third dimension is contributing. You have a client, she’s an older lady who loves the outdoors. You could take her for a walk in the park, or you could get her involved in a community gardening program. We all have natural talents and gifts, offering those to the community is an important part of inclusion.

The fourth dimension of inclusion is sharing ordinary places. Its important to remember that none of us like being hidden away, something as simple as experiencing the “real world” beyond a group home or service exclusively for people with disabilities can be enough for your client to feel included. Consider the benefits beyond the individual client as well, historically people with disabilities were hidden away in institutions. While this hasn’t been the case for a good half decade, the stigma of disability is still alive and well. By including your clients in mainstream activities, interaction by interaction you are slowly reducing the stigma of living with a disability.

The final dimension of inclusion is being someone. This is almost the mission behind inclusive practice, we all want to be known, valued and understood. But how do you put this into practice as a support worker? It’s simple and can be a part of every service you deliver. See the person and not the shift. Your clients are more than clients, they’re sports fans, they’re mothers, brothers, dog lovers, car enthusiasts. Every client has a story, and one of the most incredible blessings of being a support worker is getting to discover those stories.

This might feel overwhelming, you might be running through your weekly schedule with your clients and questioning yourself. Don’t panic. While inclusion is important, consider if these activities are making your clients happy. It may be difficult to include every dimension of inclusion with every activity with every client, and consider the repercussions of replacing an activity with another. Does this impact your clients choice and control? Does this impact their belonging? Does this impact them being someone? Inclusive practice is a complex process, but your clients best interests should always be at the core. 

Author: Rebecca Harvey