Belonging is often considered a feeling within an individual, but to achieve full belonging, an individual also needs to feel accepted and welcomed by society. Our previous research with youths with IDD found that belonging is considered an ongoing process that is predominantly experienced in four main ways: through social relationships, engaging with people who are similar, negotiating meaningful roles in the community, and navigating norms and expectations – finding a good fit.
For youths who participated in the VOY project, belonging was connected to friendship and feelings of being included in groups within the community. The youths universally described belonging as desirable and something they felt was important to them or something they wished for in their lives, even though they sometimes (or even often) felt like they did not belong or did not belong as much as they would like. The Belonging Framework developed through the VOY project offers an alternative to current views of inclusion (e.g., physical presence, only mainstream participation) that can benefit all citizens but is tailored specifically to the perspectives of individuals with IDD.