Brummel, Annica (1); Jansen, Erik (2) (2017). 'Being able to participate and belong in the community: environmental conversion factors and social inclusion of people with a disability' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.



The UN-convention for people with a disability focuses, among others, on full inclusion and participation in the community of people with a disability. Ongoing Community Based Rehabilitation programs (World Health Organization, 2010) mainly running in low-income countries are in line with this UN-convention. In high-income countries during the last decades the interest for community-based programs to support people with a disability also increased as an alternative to the dismantling of large scale institutions. In the Netherlands this interest in community-based programs to organize support for people with a disability is also stimulated by the decentralization of social policies from the national to local level (Social Support Act 2007; 2015). Various social services work together in neighborhoods to promote social inclusion and participation in the community of people with a disability. Although the neighborhood level may seem an important focus in community-based support programs, still little attention is paid to the impact of the differences in the physical environment of neighborhoods on opportunities for participation and social inclusion. Thus, to properly address capabilities of people with a disability to connect and experience belonging, more emphasis should be placed on the role of environmental conversion factors in the process of social inclusion. In this paper we contribute to insights about environmental conversion factors, with analyses from an empirical case study on social inclusion of people with a disability in three different neighborhoods in an urban area in the Netherlands.


Neighborhood characteristics and social inclusion

In the CA the importance of social networks is widely acknowledged, for instance by the characterization of affiliation as an architectonic capability (Nussbaum, 2011, p. 39), or as a fertile functioning (Wolff & De-Shalit, 2007). Moreover, other scholars stress the importance of both personal social networks and community participation for human flourishing (Marmot, 2015; Putnam, 2000). In previous studies, we focused on strengths and limitations of forming social networks from an individual perspective and a contextual perspective (Brummel, Jansen, & Brukx, 2014; Brummel & Jansen, 2015; Brummel & Jansen, 2016). Perception or branding of neighborhoods, but also the level of connectedness, have effects on social inclusion and participation of people with a disability. However, the results suggested that more insight is required on the role and the nature of neighborhood characteristicsin the process of social inclusion. These neighborhood characteristics are known to influence the opportunities for community engagement (Völker, Flap, & Lindenberg, 2007). Therefore our research question is formulated as follows:  How do environmental conversion factors influence the process of social inclusion of people with a disability in neighborhoods?



Data for a qualitative case study were gathered in three different neighborhoods in the mid-sized urban town of Nijmegen in the Netherlands (<200.000 inhabitants). First, 34 individual in-depth interviews were conducted with citizens with mental health problems and intellectual and developmental disabilities and their ego-networks were mapped. Second, 27 volunteers, who were active in 15 community-based small groups in the neighborhoods were interviewed and 14 participatory observations were conducted, mostly during activities of the community-based small groups. Third, 17 respondents participated in 4 focus groups in which we used the methods of q-sort and vignettes focusing on perception or branding of neighborhoods and stigma towards people with a disability. Fourth, with 20 respondents in one of the three neighborhoods a mapping method was used to draw the neighborhood they were living in (see also Landman, 2016). This triangulation of methods delivered a rich and diverse dataset for the analyses. We analyzed these data using the conceptual framework of Robeyns (2005), in which we place the environmental conversion factors in context of the conversion process.



The presentation will focus on social-geographical neighborhood characteristics that influence opportunities for social inclusion, both from the perspective of people with a disability and from the perspective of volunteers in community-based small-groups. The results indicate that place-based characteristics such as the amount, quality accessibility and openness of public facilities, the history of the neighborhoods, and the distance towards the city center influence the level of connectedness in the three neighborhoods. Also, more social or psychological factors such as the social norms and branding of the neighborhoods were found to influence the level of connectedness.

The findings contribute to the understanding and operationalization of the CA concerning environmental conversion factors and human relations on an individual level and add to the discussion of the position of people with a disability in western society and within the CA in specific. By assembling CA and the theory of social capital (Putnam, 2000) into a place-based perspective of social inclusion we want to shed light on the role of the physical environment on people’s conversion of capabilities into the lives they have reason to value. Last but not least, we want to enhance social work practices by suggesting possibilities of working from within the physical and social environment of a neighborhood to provide people with a disability opportunities for connecting and belonging in the neighborhood.

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