Social participation has come to the fore in international and national discussions on promoting the rights of people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of mainstream society. The UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reflects the growing significance of social participation in society and is based on the principles of non-discrimination, participation and inclusion in society, equal opportunities and accessibility.
The Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework (Steps) is a programme supported by the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Introduced in 2005, Steps is a framework which is based on the principle of activation of individuals and groups in specific geographical locations and their greater participation in community life.
It seeks to empower disabled people and community development practitioners with knowledge and capacity to ensure the active participation of disabled people within the community. Participation is important in increasing the voice and influence disabled people have in shaping the world around them. It provides greater opportunities to interact with non-disabled people on more equal terms so helping to transform attitudes and behaviour and can provide opportunities to acquire new experiences and confidence which may help people find employment. Participation is fundamentally important to people’s sense of status and belonging. Disabled people have a right to equality of opportunity. Like all other citizens, disabled people want the right to independent living, the right to make their own choices and the right to actively contribute to society and their communities.
It aims to enable disabled people to develop the skills, experience and confidence they need to engage actively with and participate in their communities and access mainstream opportunities in training, education and employment. Through the various elements of the framework Steps works to:
- increase disabled people’s participation in public, civic and community life by delivering strategic supports (training, networking, advocacy and mentoring) at local level through local community development organizations.
- provide those local community development organisations with the capacity and supports necessary to co-ordinate the programme at local level.
The elements of the Steps programme are:
- a series of training programmes designed to:
- introduce disabled people to their local community
- develop practical skills to enable participation
- explore disability issues so that they can inform policy and effect change locally and nationally
- the development of advocacy and mentoring supports enabling disabled people achieve personal life goals within a mainstream community development context
- capacity building among community development practitioners in disability equality
- the development of a model of mainstreaming (See Figure 1).