Inclusive society

In an inclusive society it makes no difference where you come from, who you love and whether you have a disease or disability: everyone counts and everyone can participate as they wish. But an inclusive society does not happen by itself, so ZonMw contributes to the development of knowledge about inclusion. .

What is inclusion?

Oxford Languages defines inclusion as ‘the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or intellectual disabilities and members of other minority groups’. To us, inclusion is about ensuring that people feel accepted and valued. Inclusion can best be described as:

  • feeling welcome
  • being accepted
  • being appreciated
  • having a good life
  • having a role in society
  • being able to do something useful
  • making one’s own choices

Inclusion as a right

Various factors contribute to an inclusive society. They include things like physical and online accessibility, an assured income and a home (socioeconomic security), the accessibility of healthcare and support, and autonomy. The right to participate is enshrined in a number of international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The importance of inclusion

ZonMw supports good health for all. In practice, we see that inclusion – belonging, being able to participate – has a positive impact on people’s quality of life and health. We therefore contribute to an inclusive society through knowledge development. We also see that inclusion has positive effects on a smaller scale. Taking account of diversity in research and projects ensures that the results impact a larger group of people. ZonMw therefore also considers diversity and inclusion in the assessment of project proposals. Read more about it in this publication.

Inclusion, diversity and participation

Diversity, inclusion and participation are three terms that are often mentioned in the same breath. How do they relate to each other?


Diversity is about the many differences between people, both visible differences, like age, sex and gender, skin colour or some disabilities, and also invisible differences, like culture, sexual preference, political convictions, resilience and personality. If you would like to know more details about what ZonMw does in terms of diversity in its research, and in healthcare and society, see our diversity page.


Inclusion is about how we deal with differences between people. In an inclusive society, differences are accepted and respected. So inclusion is about how we deal with diversity.


Participation is about ‘actively taking part’, and it is an important aspect of inclusion. It assumes that everyone can take part and is valued. When we talk about participation at ZonMw, we are often concerned with how we can help people to participate fully in society. We also devote a lot of attention to the contribution of people with expertise acquired through their experiences in research and projects.

ZonMw programmes on inclusion

ZonMw funds several programmes whose results contribute to an inclusive society for all. The main ones are listed below.

  • Protected at Home: This programme focuses on social inclusion for people who have difficulty building and maintaining an independent life. But with the right care and support, they can build a stable life. Housing is an important basic prerequisite.
  • Participation without Limitation: This programme is about the implementation in the Netherlands of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The programme focuses specifically on removing obvious and less obvious barriers so that people with an illness or disability can participate fully in society.
  • For Each Other: This programme funds projects by and for patients, which are intended to enable them to participate equally in society. It focuses not only on care, but also on areas like work, education and leisure.
  • Refugee Care: This four-year innovative programme is designed to improve psychosocial care and support for asylees in the Netherlands, and expand knowledge about this care and support.

If you would like to know about other ZonMw projects concerning physical disability, see the list in our project database (in Dutch).