Opinion: Thoughts on segregated activities

Opinion: Thoughts on segregated activities

By Jo Vassallo

The Inclusion WA vision is that ‘all people have the opportunity to participate in a welcoming society.’ If we think about what it takes to achieve this vision, it’s really interesting to consider segregated activities, and their place, if any, in working towards it.

When I talk about segregated activities, what I mean is any activity which draws its entire participant body from a particular marginalised group. As my background is largely in disability, I think of segregated activities as those for people with disabilities only, however this term could apply to any marginalised population.

For people with disability there is a vast array of segregated activities that they might become involved in.  A large number of activities for any skill level, music groups, sport groups, dance groups, drama groups, craft and woodwork groups, and so many others. In fact, if you have a disability and want to practice a hobby or even get a job, someone has probably created a segregated group for you and others like you.

When I met my partner a few years ago, he was not at all familiar with the politics and trendy views within the disability sector. He, like so many others I’ve met outside the sector, couldn’t even think of a time where he had encountered a person with a significant disability. He was baffled by some of the topics I ranted about on my return from work. He wondered why I got so heated when I discussed segregated settings for people with disabilities.

At the root of my ranting is our vision. If our society is to become more welcoming, then our society has to have the opportunity to see people with disabilities as people who have contributions to make and personalities of their own. If society never sees any people with disability, let alone any of those people making contributions, then they will never be more welcoming. This is why segregation is damaging to our vision. Because it has taught society that there are places for people like them. And guess what? Segregated activities have made society believe that that place is not with the rest of us.

About Jo Vassallo

Jo Vassallo is an ex-Inclusion WA employee and has over ten years’ experience working in the disability sector as a manager and trainer. 

*Note: This version has been modified from its original published format due to an editing error.

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Posted on

Hi Jo, Well said and thankyou so much for writing this opinion piece. It's interesting that you raise this about you partner as this is a view I see from my own networks that are not familiar with the sector. I am in a position where I am meeting with up and coming school leavers, where in a world where if you don't have a disability you have choice, control and flexibility on what you want to do where you want to go, how your going to do it. However depending on the young person's disability or support networks and what information is being given to them by schools, these young people are still being provide poor quality choices such as ADE as a job opportunity or the DES provider who isn't actually listening or truly finding out who the person is which leads to failure in finding the right job. Generally these young people have been placed into segregated groups and activities most of their life so they are quite apprehensive about participating in everyday community groups that they feel that they can't join in. So if people are continually been provided the wrong information from the start about what people with disability can do then this will continually breed segregated 'special needs groups'.