Experiences of Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities in Small Town and Rural Ontario

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Ouellette-Kuntz, Hélène
rural , social inclusion , intellectual disabilities
The aim of this thesis is to analyze social inclusion among young adults with intellectual disabilities in small towns and rural community settings. The specific context is three small towns in south eastern Ontario in 2006/2007. A phenomenological study relying on a hermeneutics cycle is undertaken to derive an understanding from multiple sources. In the first instance, policy documents related to the province's approach to supports for adults with intellectual disabilities, the research literature on experiences of adults with intellectual disabilities in rural communities, and conceptual models of social inclusion were reviewed. Seventeen young adults with intellectual disabilities (20 to 28 years of age), their caregivers (n=13) and other community members (n=20) from the three selected towns were interviewed. The interviews included quantitative tools and open-ended questions. Data from the Canadian census were also used to characterize the towns. The data collected led to quantitative (counts, median scores, proportions) and qualitative (significant statements, formulated meanings, themes) analyses for comparisons within and across towns in order to reveal the role of context in social inclusion. The results highlight the importance of context. While similarities exist among the small towns in the region, they each have unique features which impact on the experience of social inclusion for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Key lessons are learned. Attention needs to be given to the availability and proximity of spaces and structures for interaction. The role played by developmental service agencies needs to be examined critically as it may hinder social inclusion and sense of belonging. As community involvement is easier for those seen as similar and sense of community is stronger among those who see themselves as similar, the socio-demographic profile of a town can be an important factor mitigating for or against social inclusion efforts. Finally, since residents of a small town who have a greater need for supports derive more sense of community from knowing that other residents are willing to help those in need, fostering caring communities may be as important as creating services specific to persons with intellectual disabilities. The need for geographers, epidemiologists and other social and life scientists to study persons with intellectual disabilities within the places where they live remains a research area where there is still much to learn and be done.
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