“I’m proud to be intellectually disabled, but I’d still like to learn how to read”

Professori Simo Vehmas 1.8.2013Simo Vehmas, Professor of Disability Studies, University of Helsinki, President of NNDR, simo.vehmas@helsinki.fi, http://blogs.helsinki.fi/spvehmas/

I read recently a fascinating paper about the self-advocacy of young people with intellectual disability in Sweden by Magnus Tideman and Ove Svensson (Tideman & Svensson 2015). The findings of their study touch upon various contentious issues in disability studies such as the meaning of autonomy and independence, identity politics, and whether justice for disabled people is mainly a matter of distribution of goods or recognition of their equal worth.

Respect for self-determination and social justice seem to go hand in hand despite the fact that some impairments do pose a challenge for reconciling these two. What Tideman’s and Svensson’s paper highlights so well is the difficulty of “finding the right balance between giving an individual responsibility and independence and at the same time providing him or her with an adequate amount of help and support” (Tideman & Svensson 2015, 6). Providing disabled people with equal opportunities for autonomy and independence has always been important to disability movement despite the contested and ambiguous nature of the concept “autonomy”. The importance of disability identity is also contentious: some think that identification on the basis of impairment and discrimination to a disabled collective results in labeling and further discrimination rather than to empowerment and justice (e.g. Shakespeare 2006, ch. 5). Continue reading