Subscribe now and recieve 50% off all our ebooks as well as updates on all our online special needs resources.
Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

Inclusion: What It Is And What It Isn’t

Last week I wrote about inspirational media and inclusion of people with disabilities, which led me to realize that many do not understand what inclusion is and what it looks like.

There are plenty of situations that appear to be examples of inclusion at first glance, but are not inclusive at all.  Those inspirational stories and images fall into that category.  So today I’ll try to explain what inclusion isn’t – and what it is – with real everyday examples.


Defintion: the separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means.

Example:  Segregation is a deliberate separation with physical facilities or social structures intended for the use of one group but not the other.  In the world of disabilities, this usually means group homes or separate schools.


Definition: incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups.

Example: When a small group becomes part of a larger group, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two groups intermingle or that the smaller group is included in activities.  I’ve seen this happen most often in the school cafeteria and at family get-togethers.

In the cafeteria scenario, the students with special needs sit together and do not interact with general education students.  In the family party scenario, caregivers remain with the person with special needs while other family members leave them alone, so even though they’re technically “at” the party, they’re not “with” the party.

A friend of mine who has a large extended family told me, “I wish that just once someone would spend time with us at a party or give me a chance to say hello to everyone.”


Definition: a keeping apart; blocking of an entrance. (

Example: Exclusion may be deliberate or accidental, but the end result is the same: a person with a disability cannot access buildings or activities like everyone else.  A person may be unable to enter a park or building because of physical barriers.  Or a person may be advised not to participate in a class, team sport or extracurricular activity because of his or her disability.

One of my neighbors was told not to sign up for After-School Science because he required too much extra attention.  Barriers may also be sensory-based.  My family often has to leave events if the event organizers refuse to turn down the volume on the speakers or amplifiers.


Definition: The act of including.

Inclusion means that a person with a disability has the same rights, access and choices as everyone else in a community.  Inclusion is now considered a universal human right.

Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities states, “Parties to this Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community.”

Inclusion Done Right

Network Learning, a volunteer-run organization in the Netherlands, elaborates even further on the meaning of inclusion. “Inclusion is recognizing our universal ‘oneness’ and interdependence. Inclusion is recognizing that we are ‘one’ even though we are not the ‘same.’ The act of inclusion means fighting against exclusion and all of the social diseases that exclusion gives birth to – racism, sexism etc.  Fighting for inclusion also involves assuring that all support systems are available to those who need such support – as a civic responsibility, not a favour. We were all born ‘in.’”

Examples of Inclusion

Inclusion comes in many forms, and ideally, we don’t even notice that it is happening because it should be an organic part of community-building.  Here are 10 examples of inclusion that I have personally seen:

1. A group of children volunteer to pack boxes of food at a local food pantry.

2. Students help each other find books in the library.

3. A customer, cashier and grocery bagger chat at the store.

4. People participate in religious services together.

5. A physician listens to a patient’s concerns and speaks directly to the patient.

6. Students take turns giving brief presentations on their research projects in social studies class.

7. Families swim together at the city pool.

8. A family rides roller coasters at a theme park.

9. Families shop together at a farmer’s market and stop to listen to a live music performance.

10. A movie theater is sold out  because for this one show, the volume is turned down, the previews are cut and the lights are kept on low.

In other words, inclusion looks like normal, everyday life that all of us share with each other.  Once we realize that inclusion enriches everyone’s quality of life, it becomes shocking to see it denied to any person.  I hope to witness many more examples of inclusion in 2014.

If you have additional examples of segregation, integration, exclusion and inclusion, please share them in the comments.

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Opening and ending tag mismatch: meta line 7 and head in Entity, line: 22 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Entity 'bull' not defined in Entity, line: 33 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Entity 'bull' not defined in Entity, line: 93 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Entity 'bull' not defined in Entity, line: 95 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Premature end of data in tag body line 23 in Entity, line: 104 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Premature end of data in tag head line 6 in Entity, line: 104 in /var/www/ on line 159

Warning: DOMDocument::loadXML(): Premature end of data in tag html line 5 in Entity, line: 104 in /var/www/ on line 159

Latest Special Needs Products

Karen Wang

Written on January 2, 2014 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
  • Misty MeetTheCottons

    my daughter didn’t have a desk in the kindergarten classroom, she and the other resource students sat at a table when they were allowed to join the regular classroom. i was baffled when one of her classmates from preschool asked which kindergarten class she was in; she was in his class and he didn’t realize it because she spent so little time with the other students. thankfully, in a new school, she not only has a desk but her own locker, too!

  • Karen

    An example of exclusion by omission: In a situation where people normally ask you about your personal life, such as “Do you have a significant other?” totally avoiding the subject, or not inviting your significant other to a party when they normally would, because they know you are gay.

  • Cary Heller

    While I agree that inclusion should be afforded as a right to every person I can say through years of experience that true inclusion is an extremely complicated and often very illusive situation.
    I can also say that, again through experience, it is not always a persons “fault” or a group of peoples “faults” should true inclusion not happen in every situation that we may find ourselves in.

    Many times I find that a lot of upfront work must go into providing an inclusive situation for the people seeking inclusion.
    This may involve talking to community leaders about what is appropriate in a given situation and working with them to make sure that everyone in a situation is comfortable, or that attempts are made for people to be comfortable.
    This may involve speaking with security guards at a mall in case a full blown melt down occurs, making sure that they know what to do… and more importantly what not to do should this happen.
    It may involve talking to waitresses and prepping them for a potential big mess etc, so that everyone is comfortable with the situation while it is going on.
    Communication is key.

    I could go on and on, and I think that a lot of people get the point.

    True inclusion would be the perfect world…. and we certainly don’t live in a perfect world… YET!

    More times than not I am truly thankful if people are just more nice than not.
    More times than not I am truly thankful if I don’t get stares from the older generation who still believe that these children have no business in public.
    More times than not I am truly thankful when my instincts and my experience guide me to make the right choices … about where to go in public…. and where not.

    Until we live in that perfect world it is our job to seek out and facilitate inclusion for our friends and loved ones who cannot seek those situations out for themselves…. so that they do feel included and not judged and stared at in public.
    This is a job that I take very seriously as I cannot stand seeing feelings hurt in this way.

    In other words-
    Inclusion is a whole lot of really hard work-
    And I am very, very happy to do it.

    I find that when I do, I am the one who is Blessed in the most amazing of ways.
    And I could tell story after amazing story about that.

    • Deb

      I agree. It is a lot of work with back-up plans for the back-up plans. I carry a back pack with earphones, sun glasses, favorite sensory item (thera-putty) etc. We have been also Blessed by being able to attend some outside activities.
      A difficulty is my other 2 sons know we need to cancel plans if my son with autism refuses to get in the car or has a meltdown.
      My son is self-aware he is different and has been ostracized by his public school peers, especially at recess and lunch. He does not get invited to birthday parties his peers attend for a fellow classmate. They come into school all talking about the party. My son cries for hours, anxiety rises and OCD kicks in.
      Inclusion can be very difficult for a child with an invisible disability.
      He spent time at a summer program in a school specifically for children with autism. He loved it! He would wake up extra early to not be late.
      At the Public school, his anxiety-induced stomach aches would escalate where he would actually throw up in the parking lot as I walked him in.
      I hold an M.Ed in special ed. and have seen inclusion work, however, young peers at school or a beach or playground do not have the capacity to understand the complexity of a child with autism, and tend to shun them as which is the case for my son.
      I agree It is not a perfect world, but we continue to seek solutions for myself and my 3 sons to enjoy together.
      The local Friendlies restaurant knows when we stop in for a bite to eat, corner booth with 2 windows, 2 cups, 2 menus and 2 crayons for my son! Prepping restaurants has hardly ever


      Your post is comforting and helpful for me. It gave me a boost of strength to continue on.

      Thank you!

  • j9

    Inclusion is when your son goes on a Doit4real action activity holiday and enjoys saying to the camp consultants at the end “would you be surprised to hear that I am on the Autistic Spectrum” and they *are* surprised :). It’s also when he goes to a top drama school to do a Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre & gets half way through the course before he even feels it necessary to tell his co-students.

  • Pingback: inclusion vs exclusion: special needs in the classroom | lovin' adoptin'()

  • Elise (Kids Included Together)

    What an amazing article! Thank you for sharing with us the true meaning of inclusion. At Kids Included Together, we advocate for inclusion whenever possible and train professionals to best support children with disabilities in their classrooms and recreational programs. Inclusion builds tolerance and teaches our children to celebrate differences and appreciate diversity. Though inclusion can be very difficult and timely to plan and facilitate, the benefits outweigh the costs by far!

  • Pingback: Inclusion… by @ASTSupportaali | NewToThePost()

  • Musiclady

    Thank you for such an interesting and informative article, i will be sharing with colleagues who work in the field of ‘musical inclusion’

  • Pingback: Why Inclusion? Lessons from Current Affairs in America (Part 1 of 2) | Cultural Conundrums()


Notice: Use of undefined constant fbTracking - assumed 'fbTracking' in /var/www/ on line 52