Community integration, while diversely defined, is a term encompassing the full participation of all people in community life. It has specifically referred to the integration of people with disabilities into US society from the local to the national level and for decades was a defining agenda in countries such as Great Britain.
In the US, the Consortium of Citizens for Disabilities advocates for a national public policy which "ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all parts of society". Other countries (such as Canada) with different roots often spoke of inclusion: the unifying, global agenda in "disability and community life".
Theorists have differentiated types and levels of integration in special education as physical, functional, social, community and organizational. In disability circles, community integration meant opportunities for participation in schools, careers, homes, relationships, leisure, and a variety of interests and lifestyles. Bengt Nirje and the late Wolf Wolfensberger of the US are internationally known for their concept of normalization and social role valorization, with a particular emphasis on physical and social integration. Anders Gustavsson (ca. 1990) of Sweden has indicated that physical integration best describes the common use of the term "integration", with social integration the struggle for "equality and quality in life."
The intent of community integration was the participation of people with disabilities in regular environments, the antithesis of exclusionary practices (such as the minority-group model). As the field moved toward community support, theories related to community living began to require applicability beyond a minority-group model with a new emphasis on self-determination. As described by Racino, these theories include ecological theory, community-support theories, systems theory, feminist theories, family theories, sociocultural theories, critical theories in education, psychosocial theories, the generic human-concept theory and universal theories.
Taylor, in his analysis of community systems in the US, proposed the principle of non-restrictive environment as a counterpoint to the federal government's least-restrictive-environment principle. In 2014, the governing principle in the US is that of the most integrated setting based upon the Supreme Court Olmstead Decision.
Prior to the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court addressed the community integration issues multiple times in the case, Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a class action filed in Pennsylvania by attorney David Ferleger. Although the Olmstead decision explicitly did not reach the constitutional issues decided in the Pennhurst and other cases, limitations in Olmstead have been critiqued and it has been argued that there is a constitutional right to community services.
The analysis of large-scale systems change in community integration has involved challenges by local public agencies, key elements of these strategies (e.g., enabling leadership, putting people first, values and vision, learning for quality) and its implications for national policy. Disability-agency, state-level disability-system, community and societal change are essential (but insufficient) elements of the process and outcomes of community integration.
Community integration also has strong community roots which places it in community practice fields from community psychology, to sociologists studying community, to inclusive education in local school systems, competitive businesses (with rehabilitation), rural independent living, urban sociology, local parks and recreation programs, community development and housing, neighbourhoods and communities, among others.
Educational integration has a long history of debate described as "more comprehensive than academic mainstreaming." Community integration in this context (schools) refers to opportunities "to learn practical social and community living skills (and job training) in a wide variety of community settings" (p. 13). Based in part on the civil-rights movement as represented by Brown v. Board of Education, school integration was based on the right to a free, appropriate education in regular schools and classrooms.
Educational integration (now often equated with inclusion) remains controversial in the US (although it is supported by law) due, in part, to special-education systems. School integration also involves children with more significant disabilities, such as those with technology-assisted needs. Progress has been made in education at the post-secondary level (in almost all population groups) due, in part, to disability-services departments at colleges. Today, instead of educational integration, the goal is for continued school reform through inclusion (education) and for education with accommodations as required by the law.
In the US disability field a major shift has occurred from group and facility-based models to homes with support services, emphasizing a change from "home-like" housing to community homes, neighborhoods and relationships. The most-recent initiatives were in homeownership, an important form of community integration which also involves a feeling of ownership. Housing integration builds on a long history of support for good quality, affordable housing which often include analyses of social exclusion which may concentrate on US protected classes.
Housing integration is of great importance, in part, because of the history of residential segregation (usually by race and class) in the US. Residential segregation due to inequality and disparity continues to be studied in ethnic, social and economic frameworks, including the process of desegregation, gentrification and hypersegregation. In addition, redlining, as a bridge issue across lower and middle classes, affects housing and neighborhood integration from as early as the 1970s with germandering districts for community development funds more common in the 2000s. A discussion of residential segregation in US and Europe and a "critique of the ideal of integration" can be found in Inclusion and Democracy.
In the US, mixed-income and scattered-site housing was reported in a case study of a housing association supporting people with disabilities in Madison, Wisconsin (the Madison Mutual Housing Association and Cooperative). In Canada, the Prairie Housing Cooperative (as reported by David Wetherow) integrates persons with disabilities into the community via housing. An early review on nonprofit housing in the US and Canada, with increasing governmental funds in the US today, indicates that mixed-income housing  was used primarily in "troubled neighborhoods" with efforts to seek higher-income tenants to move into those neighborhoods as opposed to raising the entire group's living standards. In 2013, the emphasis is on inclusive and sustainable housing, while other groups support equitable and sustainable housing in the US (Policy Link). The status of housing and disability in America was reported by the National Council on Disability in the US, and compared to Harvard University's report on the nation's housing.
Being in the community has meant being part of activities and events on the local level in towns, cities and suburbs. Recreational integration is a facet of inclusion and community access. School and recreation integration was promoted in the US and in countries such as Canada and Australia. On the local level concerns have generally concerned acceptance and friendships, support services, site accessibility, group size and "truly integrated" (in contrast to "side-by-side") activities. For example, in Great Britain community opportunities were sought so people could belong, contribute and make friends. In addition, recreational funding has often been tied to facilities; community integration involves changes in staffing of regular community environments such as the YMCA. By 2013, at least one academic recreation and tourism department had an inclusion, adaptive educator as its Departmental Chair supporting integration and inclusion.
Recreational inclusion may entail a camp, a neighborhood center, a girls' softball league, school sports or technology clubs, a community choir or a public-speaking course as participation in a social world and integration. Car-related examples include an amusement-park car track; car shows, bike nights and car cruise-ins, and model car racing.
Employment integration was advocated during the 1970s for women, people with disabilities and racial groups, who were seen as discriminated against in employment (Racino for the Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc., 1978); for example, occupations and professions were constructed based upon gender: women's professions (nurses, teachers, secretaries) and men's professions (scientists, managers, administrators, police, firemen and construction). Progress has been made at the leadership level with the first African American president (Barack Obama), disability leadership in the United States Department of Education (Judith Heumann) and the rise of prominent women in the state department State Department (Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton).
For those with severe disabilities employment-integration initiatives were often framed as supported employment, which allowed jobs at regular businesses and employment sites. Similar initiatives in the mental health field were often called transitional employment, and other forms of integration included competitive placements in businesses and industry, targeted positions, and even affirmative businesses in the hearts of business districts. A major success was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, amended in 2008 (following the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1978), which provided protection for men and women with disabilities in obtaining jobs, careers and positions with necessary workplace accommodations. A key service for employment integration is often considered to be personal assistance services, or in other fields a job coach prior to more "natural" models of supervision and support.
In this context employment integration has been conceptualized, including social aspects of promotion, discriminatory hiring and termination practices, performance standards, job-sharing and modification, educational attainment, internships and volunteer experiences, workplace relationships, team-building, supervisory roles, workers' compensation, accommodations and supports (Urban League of Onondaga County, 1978). Competitive employment integration at the US workplace is expected by law, and categorical services have tended to be developed as segregated bases (e.g., sheltered facilities to supported employment). Employment integration is a worldwide issue, modified by approaches to multicultural groups (e.g. the growing Latino population in the US), the changing economy (e.g. from manufacturing to service) and increasing unemployment.
Community integration has been most criticized for its inattention to gender, ethnic, cultural, racial, class and economic factors ("double discrimination", pp. 60–61). At the university level multiculturalism, including disability, was proposed as the solution to these complex issues. Community integration, in practice, involves diverse approaches and models (age, team, agency, area and gender integration or segregation) and has been integral to de-institutionalization and community development for over two decades. Community integration is a policy, concept and practice to address systemic stigma and discrimination related to disability. It competes with other policy models (such as multiculturalism), and changes its practices over time.
In the sub-field of brain injury, community integration included areas ranging from supported employment to daily living skills, family interventions (versus support) and memory training, school reintegration and transition to post secondary education. Community integration was being diversely defined by researchers, including those in fields such as brain injury, sensory impairments (e.g., hearing, visual), developmental and physical disabilities. News and professional-journal articles will often read, "integration into the community" (from institutions and facilities), integrated care (health services integration), or "community reintegration" (after hospital care) worldwide.
In the field of mental health Paul Carling promoted community integration in the 1980s and 1990s in opposition to the predominant medical model,while psychiatric rehabilitation also linked to the medical, often allied health, professions. Carling's approach to community integration in mental health was congruent with intellectual disabilities, particularly in areas of community living (e.g., supportive living in intellectual disabilities, supported housing in mental health, and housing and support).
Comprehensive medical systems were proposed to support the family in community integration, including new roles for specialized personnel from neuropsychologists to physiatrists.In the field of traumatic brain injury, community integration was framed by both the social and medical models of disability in an effort to transition people from hospitals and rehabilitation centers.Today, the Brain Injury Association of America recommends the educational needs of children with traumatic brain injuries and the health care required.
US federal initiative
In 1985, the US government funded a national community-integration project identifying best community practices for people with the "most severe disabilities". Technical assistance was funded through the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Integration (of the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, US Department of Education) to all states. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Integration (Syracuse University, headed by Steve Taylor) also had subcontracts with the University of Illinois (David Braddock), the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration (K. Charlie Lakin) and others.
The principles of community integration through the national flagship centers (the Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers on Family and Community Living, facilitated by Lakin and J.A. Racino of Syracuse University) were:
- All people with disabilities will be able to live successfully in (and as part of) natural communities that provide them the supports they need.
- All people with disabilities will be recognized for the positive contributions they make to their families and communities.
- All people with disabilities will benefit from enduring relationships with other people (including family members and community members without disabilities).
- All people with disabilities (and their family members) will be entitled to participate in decisions affecting the nature and quality of services they receive.
- All people with disabilities will have access to services and supports that provide choice and support full citizenship.
- Services and supports for people with disabilities will be individualized and responsive to cultural and ethnic differences, economic resources and life circumstances.
- Public policy will provide thee opportunity to enjoy productive, integrated lives.
The 1988 Leadership Institute on Community Integration (From Being in the Community to Being Part of the Community, Steve J. Taylor, director; Julie Ann Racino, deputy director and B. Shoultz, information coordinator), held in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by the Research and Training Center on Community Integration in cooperation with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, US Department of Education, Beach Center on Families and Disability (University of Kansas), California Research Institute (University of Connecticut), Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (Virginia Commonwealth University), Research and Training Center Consortium on Aging and Developmental Disabilities (an eight-university consortium coordinated by the University of Cincinnati), Research and Training Center on Community Living (University of Minnesota) and the University-Affiliated Program in Developmental Disabilities (University of Illinois at Chicago). Work groups were facilitated in community living, families, school and employment with papers prepared, respectively, by K. Charlie Lakin, Ann P. Turnbull and H. Rud Turnbull, Douglas Biklen and Paul Wehman.
By the late 2000s, the Centers were renamed to Community Participation, one aspect of community integration, or to Employment, or other priority areas, such as Health, with many of the above centers still federally funded through the NIDRR program (National Institute on Rehabilitation Research and Rehabilitation), US Department of Education and new academic centers at universities such as Temple University in Pennsylvania.
Principles and practices
In particular, community integration in intellectual, "severe" disabilities and developmental disabilities means families for all children. For adults, it means "ordinary" or "regular" homes with support services. In addition, community integration means recreation, employment, transportation and education with the personal assistance and support(s) necessary to participate fully in the community.
However, community support (e.g., consumer-directed services) as part of community-agency change and deinstitutionalization, self-determination, community participation, individual planning, social relationships and personal-assistance services became the leading directions in US community integration.
Community integration has been tied to quality assurance in the community and an improved quality of life. It has involved evaluations and studies over at least two decades in areas ranging from service costs to personnel studies, service typologies, best practices and innovations, community and integration studies. Internationally, quality of life has been explored in Finland, Australia, the US, Germany, Hungary, Denmark and Canada.
Researchers in the US (Julie Ann Racino, Syracuse University) and Great Britain (David Towell, King's Fund College) collaborated on community integration, including a 1990 series of international seminars on community integration in the US held at the University of Manchester (Hester Adrian Research Center), Manchester Polytechnic and Manchester Health Authority, the King's Fund College (with Lyn Rucker), Campaign for the Mentally Handicapped (London), University of Wales at Bangor (Center for Social Policy Research), and the University of Wales (Mental Handicap Research Unit). Internationally, research began on the "first integrated generation" in countries such as Sweden and integration was confirmed as a legal principle in the US.
Community services, supports, integration and inclusion are changing in countries such as Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Austria, Great Britain, Iceland and Sweden. Since the 1990s the European Union has formed, populations in the Middle East have been emancipated, community self-advocacy has developed in South America and Africa and financial ownership of US debt has been undertaken (in part) by China. The United Nations offers guidance and leadership through its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (particularly Article 19, which addresses independent living and community inclusion). New book based on these principles is "Public Administration and Disability: Community Services Administration in the US" (Racino, in press, 2014). which links to the diverse nation-states and rationales for continuing educational, employment and housing segregation Segregation in Northern Ireland.
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