Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Marilyn L. Grady
Lincoln, Nebraska: March, 2010
Copyright 2010 Sarah A. Hall.


Social inclusion enhances the quality of life of young adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). Young adults with ID continue to face prejudice and discrimination that limit their social inclusion. They experience limited social inclusion because there are not enough appropriate activities available and they have limited opportunities to develop friendships. The social inclusion that people with disabilities experience within their local community varies greatly.

There is a deficiency in the literature concerning the social inclusion of young adults with ID. Previous considerations of disability have focused primarily on physical access and reflect the local contexts in which the participants live. There is a need to understand the social inclusion of young adults with ID and to advocate for change.

The purpose of the present study was to describe the social inclusion of young adults with intellectual disabilities and to identify contexts that limit or enhance their social inclusion. Social inclusion was defined as being involved in activities, developing and maintaining relationships, and having a sense of belonging. Participants included fourteen adults from 22 to 35 years of age with a mild or moderate intellectual disability who were able to verbally communicate their thoughts and experiences.

I used the phenomenological qualitative research design to explore the lived experiences of social inclusion for young adults with ID. I collected data through semi-structured interviews. During the interviews, I asked the participants open-ended questions about their experiences of social inclusion and the context of their experiences. The length of each interview session and number of sessions were flexible to accommodate the needs of the participants.

The findings consisted of themes that described their experiences of social inclusion and the contexts of their experiences. Their social inclusion consisted of involvement in work, volunteer, social, recreational, and leisure activities; reciprocal relationships; and the sense of belonging derived from accepting environments and self-determination. Their social inclusion was influenced by the contexts of their experiences including living accommodations, transportation options, personal abilities and skills, financial resources, assistance from family members, and assistance from service providers.