Social inclusion: music gives voice to people with disability

Feeling a part of the community has long been identified as a key factor of personal wellbeing. However, social inclusion is something many people with disabilities don’t have on a daily basis.

When Alison Maclean first spoke to us in a video for the inclusion ready project, she talked about her experiences within her community. Here we talk more about the activities she is involved in, and what it has meant to her to be included.

But first, what is social inclusion?

For Australian policy purposes, social inclusion has been defined as having the resources, opportunities and capabilities to:

  • learn (participate in education and training)
  • work (participate in employment, unpaid or voluntary work including family and carer responsibilities)
  • engage (connect with people, use local services and participate in local, cultural, civic and recreational activities), and
  • have a voice (influence decisions that affect them).

Being able to study, work, make social networks and attend community events are all things many of us take for granted.

People with disability must overcome a number of barriers in order to participate in these fundamental aspects of a meaningful life, such as:

  • limited understanding of disability
  • the bias and stigma in our culture about disability
  • communication barriers
  • physical barriers such as limited or no access
  • a lack of suitable transport
  • social barriers such as economic or employment state.

Alison, who is also an advocate for people with disabilities, says not? having a voice is one of the biggest barriers she has encountered.

Fortunately Alison has found her voice through music.

She is one of the founding members of a Brisbane-based community music group called the Whoopee-do Crew that meets weekly to share songs, stories and find their voices through making music. The group also performs at community events.

Alison’s passion for music has also lead her to work at community radio station 4ZZZ.

Kim Stewart, 4ZZZ’s Station Advocate for People with Disability, says the benefits of community radio for people like Alison are numerous.

“Community radio was set up for the purpose of giving everyone a voice. They also get to contribute by volunteering and doing meaningful work that they enjoy, learning new skills while having fun in the process,” Kim says.

The skills learnt aren’t just technical skills, but also social and communication skills which are transferable to other aspects of life.

And it isn’t just the volunteers who benefit from the social inclusion community radio offers.

“The wider community gets to hear voices that they wouldn’t normally hear from, whether that is people with disability, or from different ethnic and religious backgrounds,” explains Kim.

Alison’s work at 4ZZZ has broadened her networks and lead her to many other opportunities. This includes producing an episode for the Women on the Edge radio series entitled Food Not Bombs. The series has been nominated for an Excellence in Training Award at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia Awards.

On top of her music commitments, Alison is also studying Event Management and works as a Peer Leader with the Queenslanders with Disability Network.

Being involved in such a wide array of activities undoubtedly contributes positively to Alison’s quality of life.

“In a perfect world, people with disabilities would love to live a more ordinary life. For me it’s having a job, being social and make [sic] big friendships circles,” she says.

Alison says being and feeling included makes her whole life better. Just as we all do.

In a submission to inform the National Disability Strategy called SHUT OUT: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia, various individual voices were featured, many of which highlighted the social exclusion experienced by people with disabilities.  In fact, 56 per cent of all individual submissions for the development of a National Disability Strategy were related to the need for social inclusion and community participation  and how limited it was for people with disability.

A particularly powerful statement in the report highlights the importance of social inclusion for people living with a disability:

“We desire a place within the community! This place is not just somewhere to lay down our heads, but a place which brings comfort and support with daily living, friendship, meaningful work, exciting recreation, spiritual renewal, relationships in which we can be ourselves freely with others. And out of this great things may flourish.”

Social inclusion has numerous benefits for people living with disabilities, including positive physical and mental health outcomes. By being included in our community people with disability can contribute in a range of ways through volunteering, study and employment.

By making services more accessible to a diverse range of clientele, businesses can benefit. Things such as physical access, signage and customer service training can make a big difference to people with disabilities when accessing services. You can read more about economic inclusion here.

But social inclusion doesn’t just benefit those being included. Society as a whole reaps the benefitsby gaining an active citizen who needs less government support, fewer services and pays more tax.

Acknowledging and accepting the contributions of our diverse community without judgement or prejudice is what social inclusion is all about.

Alison Maclean has one piece of advice for people living with a disability who wish to feel more included socially: “You can do anything you want, and you have a voice.”

For more information on how community radio is building confidence, social inclusion and skills for people with cognitive differences & disability check out the Ability Radio Project here.