Bredewold, Femmianne; Tonkens, Evelien; Trappenburg, Margo
University of Humanistic Studies, Netherlands, The
People with intellectual disabilities and/or psychiatric illness – are no longer put away in large institutions. Instead many of them live in ordinary neighborhoods in urban areas. However, previous research has shown that their social integration leaves much to be desired: former residents of institutions have a small network consisting of care professionals, family members and fellow former residents. This study in the Netherlands, aimed to find out whether citizens with disabilities can have contacts with citizens who do not belong to the usual categories in their network, a question partly inspired by governmental policy which expects citizens to look after ‘vulnerable neighbors’. We found out that many citizens did not have any contact with their neighbors with disabilities and others had only negative contact. However, we also found that light and superficial contacts do occur between them. Citizens with and without disabilities meet and greet at the streets, at the shopping center, at dog-walking areas and at distinct social places. Although these contacts remain light and superficial, they are very important for neighbors with and without disabilities, because they represent bridges between two mostly separated worlds and can reduce inequalities. This study pointed out that the urban neighborhood is an important place to bring people with and without disabilities in contact with each other, because It is a natural place where people can meet without too many obligations. The seemingly superficial encounters create a meaningful and substantial ensemble of interactions that contribute to the social inclusion of people with disabilities.