SOCIAL EXCLUSION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
The concept of social exclusion has evolved through an accumulation of uses of the corresponding term of the same name, which have captured different forms of marginalisation and deprivation of participation in the ‘normal’ and institutionalised ways of life and public benefits common to all members of a society.
The use of the concept coincides with the effort and need to create societies which, in their basic function, produce ‘inclusion’ rather than ‘exclusion’, accepting rather than rejecting difference, naming it as ‘different’ in order to establish the conditions for its inclusion rather than its rejection.
It should also be noted that there is a close, reciprocal and mutually reinforcing relationship between social exclusion and economic poverty. Social exclusion and the very concept of poverty are not understood exclusively as a lack of resources, but mainly as a relative deprivation of rights and a lack of access to social processes and opportunities. Recently, the scope of the term ‘exclusion’ has been extended in the scientific field, covering multiple subjects and substituting similar terms. In this way, it has captured and defined social problems and a series of actions and measures to combat them. “Social exclusion is defined as ‘the specific process of marginalisation of social groups and individuals, which occurs because it makes it extremely difficult for them to access social and public goods’. This definition has the advantage of separating social exclusion from forms of poverty and is at the same time useful in order to give a picture of the phenomenon of exclusion (both as a state and as a process) in society. At the same time, it reflects the twofold nature of the phenomenon: on the one hand, it reflects an identifiable and potentially interpretable situation and, on the other hand, a continuous process of identifying the changes and causal relationships that reproduce the phenomenon.
It would not be an exaggeration, therefore, to define exclusion as a deprivation of rights. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the excluded person’s situation is the inability to exercise his or her rights – political, social and economic. The relationship between exclusion and rights is negative and can be understood as a relationship of withdrawal leading to lack of participation in society. More specifically, social exclusion refers to the alienation and marginalisation of individuals or groups within society. It concerns individuals or groups of individuals with common characteristics such as disability, gender, age, etc. and is related not only to economic considerations but also to alienation from institutions, difficulties in accessing and appropriating social goods, and even to personal-psychological factors of participation in social life and in the network of social relations. We can therefore see that social exclusion is a cross-cutting problem, i.e. it refers to the meaning that people attach to their relationships, their interaction in the social sphere and their moral responsibility towards society as a whole. It is not only a political, economic or social issue, but also a moral one; people who experience exclusion are tested daily and in the harshest way, as they are constantly confronted with obstacles to the exercise of their natural rights, such as freedom and self-fulfilment within the society in which they live. The result of this is a false self-image of individuals and a lack of confidence in their abilities to cope with their obligations, as well as the stigmatisation of themselves and the areas in which they live. In Greece, the term was officially used in the 1990s, when the National Observatory for Combating Exclusion was established and sent (in 1990) the first Greek report on the subject to the European Observatory. In that report it was noted that a common characteristic of excluded people was their weak relationship with the main social mechanisms that produce or distribute resources, the labour market, the family or other interpersonal networks and the state.
Social exclusion carries a negative connotation, both verbally and mentally, that of discount, lack, invisibility, absence, marginality: the excluded are dismissed as inappropriate, unemployable, “missing”, lacking access to something, not expressed, not represented, considered outside, not counted. It is argued that since the industrial revolution it is access to the labour market that determines the degree of integration or functional marginalisation of the individual. Survival now depends on the ability to work. The removal of the individual from the productive process and his/her exclusion from the workplace automatically means his/her social exclusion. The phenomenon of exclusion is perceived negatively by the excluded people themselves, causing them to have negative feelings about themselves. Exclusion can be described as a process of de-socialisation. The result of this is the creation of a negative image, which presents diversity as negative. This otherness automatically leads to a state of ‘vulnerability’ and weakness in the social sphere. The individual thus becomes a victim of social exclusion simply because he or she belongs to a group with specific and different characteristics, as in the case of disabled people suffering from organic, mental or psychological illness.
People with disabilities are an important category of the population who often face problems of social exclusion, stigmatisation and indifference, or unequal treatment by their social environment because of prejudice against them. Categorisation into groups of excluded people and the very image of social duality, the ‘in’ and the ‘out’, have the effect of stigmatising populations through definition, classification and categorisation. Nevertheless, PWD do not form a single, cohesive social group with shared interests and visions. Nor do they share a common destiny, that of exclusion and exclusion, but they experience similar situations that contribute to their exclusion in all its forms (social, educational, employment, etc.)
Disability and poverty therefore seem inextricably linked in developing countries. People with disabilities are caught in a vicious circle. Disability increases poverty as the incomes of people with disabilities decline, due to deprivation of employment or access to income, basic social, medical and rehabilitation services, while people living in poverty tend to acquire disabilities due to malnutrition, poor housing, hazardous occupations and increased exposure to violence. However, social exclusion is not only linked to economic poverty. Social deprivation plays an equally important role in their lives. People with disabilities are exposed to negative social behaviours which have a severe impact both physically and psychologically. This significantly reduces their opportunities to become productive members of society and increases the risk of being trapped in poverty. Social exclusion is completed by making these people dependent on social welfare structures and reducing them to the status of recipients of social welfare or state care. The excluded in modern societies are unable to participate in wider consumption patterns as a consequence of their lack of skills or their inability to access public goods. Three main factors that lead people with disabilities and/or their families to social exclusion are: 1. Lower income, due to unemployment, underemployment, inability to work during rehabilitation, inability of parents to work due to the disability of a child in need of care, etc. 2. Additional financial costs due to disability, such as technical aids, ergonomic accommodation, personal assistance, services not provided or not adequately covered by the State or the social security funds, etc. 3. Barriers: marginalisation due to lack or inadequacy of services or exclusion from services and/or social activities. These three factors, although different, have a common underlying characteristic, which is the discrimination that the disabled person and his/her family suffer on a daily basis. NGOs have in recent years launched an action to provide the necessary information to the excluded and to represent (e.g. legally) the excluded in public services. Their basic principle is the protection of human dignity as an action of great value in our times, when the individual feels increasingly isolated from the community in which he or she lives. Human dignity cannot be compromised for any reason and for any purpose. Wherever there is tolerance for cases of injury to human dignity, there is no way to a better, more humane society.
This degrading and discriminatory psychological process for people with disabilities is the beginning of a vicious circle of discrimination. Stereotypes, prejudices and social constructions of the characteristics of a person or group do not allow and often prohibit them from maintaining their place in collective life, with psychological consequences. Thus psychosocial disadvantages and disturbed emotions are very common situations that generate feelings: – Anxiety and fear: the dominant emotion of people with disabilities is anxiety, a consequence of uncertainty and insecurity. At this stage it becomes a cause of anger, rage, aggression and depression. – frustration: frustration is also very common among people who are socially excluded. They are faced with the inability to dream, to have aspirations and to make sense of their lives. The sense of frustration they feel often leads to despair and desperation, reducing their self-confidence and self-esteem, which in turn leads to a denial of motivation, goals and self-actualisation. – Guilt and shame: many people with disabilities experience feelings of guilt for not being able to offer their family and environment the possibility of a quality life. – Isolation, alienation: the negative and pitying attitude of the general population towards illness and disability leads people with disabilities to loneliness and isolation. They tend to develop defence strategies, with self-isolation and self-exclusion as a key feature, in order to avoid fear of rejection.
SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND EDUCATION
Education is an important factor leading to marginalisation and social exclusion. Their relationship is two-way. The Council of Europe made the link between them when it examined the issue of social exclusion in terms of five areas of social life: education, housing, social protection, employment and health.163 In the current system of education provision, infrastructure deficiencies perpetuate educational inequalities and cause a kind of educational exclusion that reproduces situations of social exclusion, particularly for those whose access to higher education is impeded. Exclusion from education occurs in three phases:
– Some specific groups are excluded from the education system from the outset
-Children who are marginalised within school and as a consequence fail or drop out
-Children who manage to complete the cycle of public education, in a very small proportion.
It is well known that school frees the child from principles and prejudices. The education system, while by its very nature it can contribute to social integration, for certain groups of the population it acts as a mechanism for social exclusion. Children from socially excluded groups are at greater risk of experiencing social exclusion from education. Indeed, most young people who drop out of school come from families with low socio-economic and educational levels. Education was seen as the most appropriate means of eliminating social injustices by providing it to all without discrimination. Starting from the democratic principle that ‘everyone has the right to be different from others’, the school takes account of individual differences, without, however, dividing children into categories, but rather carefully identifying individual abilities. The democratic philosophy implies the notion that all children should be given the opportunity to learn, whether they are children with no educational or social problems, or those who are particularly gifted, mentally handicapped, blind, deaf, emotionally disturbed, or with multiple disabilities.
The right to education is a key issue in the exercise of social rights, as the denial of education is a major obstacle to their exercise. From 1959 to the present day there have been a series of declarations and conventions on the right to education for people with disabilities. Every person is capable of being educated, of doing something. Something that will give meaning to his life and the lives of his fellow human beings. Children with or without special educational needs and abilities have more similarities than differences. School is governed by the rules that apply in the wider society and is characterised by the conditions that affect all other social groups. Within the classroom there are conditions for participation and conditions for interaction. The child learns to co-exist with others and at the same time develops a sense of collective work. ‘The “other”, the different, is seen as an important member of the group, and his or her difference is not seen as a negative element but as an opportunity for interaction and mutual fulfilment’. . The way people with disabilities are treated is a reflection of a country’s culture. And it should all start at school. This is all a matter of education. Schools should inspire respect for people with disabilities. ∆Unfortunately, however, the education system is constructed in such a way that it does not provide its future citizens with the education and training they need to accept people with disabilities as equal fellow citizens. In accordance with the explicit requirements of the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic (Articles 16 and 21), the concern and sensitivity of both the state and the citizens for persons with disabilities is an obligation to the fellow human being and an imperative need. The basic aims of society’s care are: a) The full and effective development and utilisation of their potential and abilities; b) Their harmonious integration into the productive process; c) Their acceptance by society as a whole. Education as a right is institutionalised, but this is often taken for granted and no effort is made to implement the conditions that are often necessary. Many people with disabilities are unable to enter the education system, and even those who do manage to enter it are often forced to leave it. This is due to the provision of lower quality education and is linked to the fact that special schools, special classes and integration classes are not adequately staffed, equipped and accessible. The same is true at all levels of education. In order to promote equality in education, it is crucial to be aware of the importance of ensuring access to education. It is now accepted that in order to promote equality in education it is not only necessary to ensure access/participation in the education system, but also to ensure that the conditions are in place to ensure a substantial degree of success for all those involved in the education system. These two views are an expression of different perceptions of the causes of inequalities, which certainly affect the approach to the responsibility of society in promoting equality in education. M. Kassotakis, S. Papapetrou and N. N. Fakiolas propose the following as feasible solutions to this problem: modernisation of the institutional framework governing the education of people with disabilities, better cooperation between the responsible bodies involved in these issues, multiplication of the number of special education schools and the creation of special education departments in Greek universities to train staff capable of dealing with people with disabilities.
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