Definition of inclusion

Terms and concepts change their meaning in the process of awareness-raising, both theoretically and practically. This article uses the term inclusion in accordance with its current national and European usage in legal and sociological discourse. In contrast to integration, inclusion does not aim at the individual’s adaptation, but at enabling comprehensive participation/involvement and implies, in social terms, a change of the conditions in society as well as society as a whole to allow for inclusion.

The sociological dimension of inclusion

It was Talcott Parsons who introduced the term inclusion in sociological theory. The term was then developed by Niklas Luhmann. Parson understands inclusion in the evolutionary development of society as the involvement of players who have been excluded so far in subsystems. According to Luhmann, inclusion means participating in the benefits of the various functional systems. Émile Durkheim defines inclusion as the successful realisation of social solidarity. Michel Foucault ascribes a disciplinary character to exclusion as well as inclusion. Pierre Bourdieu‘s theory of inequality is equally founded on the dichotomy of inclusion and exclusion. Another author associated with the sociological concept of inclusion is the British sociologist Thomas H. Marshall, who founded the welfare-state concept of citizenship.

“For persons with disabilities, inclusion means to participate actively and self-determinedly in life and society with full civil rights.”


Legal dimension

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted on 13 May 2006 by the UN General Assembly in New York based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and took effect on 3 May 2008. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international law treaty, concluded by 177 states and the European Union by ratification, accession or (in the case of the EU) formal confirmation. It spells out in concrete terms the eight human rights conventions existing to date for the life situations of persons with disabilities.

Article 3 of the Convention lays down the guiding principles:

a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;

b) Non-discrimination;

d) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

e) Equality of opportunity;

f) Accessibility;

g) Equality between men and women;

h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.


Article 4 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reads: “the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind of the basis of disability.”

According to Article 4 (2) of the Convention, these rights need not be realized immediately but “progressively” — without prejudice to those obligations contained in the Convention that are immediately applicable according to international law. The Convention may thus be realised by a State Party progressively “to the maximum of its available resources”.

This limitation clearly shows that while the Convention should be practically implementable, it is well understood that any change of laws for inclusion and the implementation of accessibility takes some time as well as construction measures, training, or staff.

Progressive realisation relates to economic, social and cultural rights; it therefore refers to the human rights laid down in the UN Social Covenant.

Convention and texts on the Convention

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities English Version Download