The Voices of Youths Project: 2014 – 2018

Current Project

Pathways to Belonging (P2B) is an extension of our previous multi-year research, the Voices of Youths (VOY) project. The VOY project aimed to learn about their experiences of friendship, social inclusion, and quality of life from the perspectives of youths (13 – 24 years) with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) themselves. The VOY, which ended in March 2018, was supported by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The findings of this study are captured in the Belonging Matters film and the Belonging Framework.

Like P2B, the VOY research used a similar participatory, or inclusive, approach to researching with youths (aged 13 – 24 years) with IDD. To make the research inclusive, the research team included youths with IDD and community organization partners who serve youths with IDD, in addition to university researchers and their students (hyperlink to VOY website – about us). They all participated in making important research decisions. We also made the research inclusive by using research methods (e.g., plain language and audio-visual materials and methods) to support youth with IDD who communicate in different ways.

The Process

We interviewed 24 teens and young adults with IDD on video in their own homes and communities. Filming the interviews allowed youths to use more than just words to show us what was important to them. It also showed the activities and places where the teens and young adults in our study engaged in community life, and how they felt about these experiences. The VOY team filmed more than 70 hours of filmed interviews that were analyzed and discussed by researchers and their students. Analysis of this data revealed a framework (the Belonging Framework) which captured the ongoing process of belonging to and engaging in community life for youths with IDD from their own perspectives. Visit the Voices of Youths website for more information about our previous project.


The Belonging Framework includes four main ways that build belonging from the perspective of youth with IDD:

The belonging framework represented as a tree.

[Image description: The Belonging Framework displayed in the form of a tree with branches and many birds around it. “Belonging” is represented by the tree and the four main ways that building belonging was identified by youth with IDD are represented by the tree branches. These four branches have text that read: social relationships, similar people, meaningful roles, and good fit.]


  1. Having social relationships.

Social relationships happen through spending time talking or doing activities with friends, family, or other people in the home or community.


2. Engaging with people who are similar.

People can be similar when they like some of the same things, do things together, or have similar challenges


3. Negotiating meaningful roles in the community.

These roles happen through activities like volunteering or work, participation in teams or groups, or experiences like going to the library.


4. Finding a good fit.

A good fit happens when there is a match between what the youth wants for themselves and what others, like parents or staff, expect of or want for the youth.