The Social Model: Sleeping on the Job?

Dr. Jo Ferrie, Lecturer Social Research Methods, University of Glasgow and Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research, UK

I am not long back from the stimulation and challenges of the Disability Studies Conference in Lancaster, UK and it’s apparent that the social model is alive and well. It stands as a mighty sword of justice and has certainly been used well to effect change and bring ground breaking policy reform. But its focus remains on public citizenship. Its focus remains on removing barriers, be they environmental, physical, constructionist, attitudinal or structural: its influence is social.

While these forms of emancipation are vital, they’re not reaching all disabled people. Because many disabled people are disabled in their private spaces. Let me give you an example. Continue reading

A very personal blog entry: The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Austrian Independent Monitoring Committee

Ursula Naue, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Political Science, University of Vienna, Austria, Member of the Austrian Independent Monitoring Committee on the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Before November 2008, I analysed Austrian disability politics and policies from a rather distant scientific perspective – even though informed by my own personal story. But then, on 4 November 2008, I was appointed as one of the members of the Austrian Independent Monitoring Committee on the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[1]. In the Committee, I represent the field of scientific research and teaching.

This literally changed my life. From this day onwards, I mutated into an activist who addresses deficits in Austrian disability politics and policies in a straight and direct manner. I do this in my work in the Monitoring Committee (when assisting to write one of our statements), I do this in my lectures which I give for the Committee (speaking to politicians, officials, and persons with and without disabilities in general), and I do this in my courses at the university where I try to institutionalise Disability Studies as part of the Political Science curriculum. Continue reading

Autism Advocacy[1]

Tiina Itkonen, Associate Professor of Education, California State University Channel Islands, USA

As a core public value, equity is central in understanding special education in contemporary society. This was not always the case, however. Historically, children with disabilities were stigmatized and left to make it on their own or fail in school, and those with more significant disabilities were all together excluded from public schools (Biklen, Ferguson & Ford, 1989). The 1970s era of social reforms in the US, however, put an end to dejure segregation in the education of persons with disabilities.  Following the 1970 passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a monumental federal law passed in 1975, guaranteeing free and appropriate public education for all children regardless of the type or degree of their disability (Scotch, 2001). The new law, PL 94-142, later renamed as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, established substantial rights for individuals, and ensured the involvement of parents in their child’s educational program development (Ong-Dean, 2009). The law also guaranteed parents the right to appeal decisions made by school districts in front of an impartial hearing officer, and to appeal that decision through the federal court system. One could thus argue that student-centered parent advocacy in special education is rooted in the legislative language of a social reform era that expanded the rights of individuals as well as the obligations of society on behalf of people with special needs (Ong-Dean, 2009).  There remains some question, however, as to whether equity-based reforms have played out equitably among groups that advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities.  My study begins to shed light on this question. Continue reading

Incompatible ways to Zion: politics and morality in disability studies

 Halvor Hanisch, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Oslo University Hospital, Norway

In disability studies, research is tightly intertwined with politics and morality. The field has, to quote Carol Thomas, ‘social oppresssion as its analytical signature’. Disability studies is characterized by a twofold critical commitment; to investigate oppression and exclusion, and to contribute to empowering and inclusive processes in our society.

This commitment has produced several turns and debates in the history of disability studies, dealing with paradigms like ’emancipatory research’, ‘standpoint epistemology’ and many others. Without discussing them in detail, it seems clear that disability studies is committed to two different norms:

  • Norm 1: Disability studies should analyze exclusion and disabling processes.
  • Norm 2: Disability studies should, as social practice, in itself be a form of inclusion.

Continue reading

Telling the story? The Commodification of Impairment and Disability in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone

Maria Berghs, PhD, research fellow, University of York, UK

“You get me? You need to start filming people. That way people will see!” said Mohammed in criticism of my work. In post-conflict Sierra Leone, people like Mohammed had a sophisticated understanding of research. Due to a mediatised war and post-conflict relief economy, people disabled by a ten year civil conflict (1991-2002) had a lot of contact with a plethora of journalists, photographers, film-makers, health care professionals, lawyers, non-governmental organisations, missionaries, government workers and researchers. This also entailed high expectations.

Writing and photography were outdated modes of social action and disabled people now expected to be seen (i.e. on YouTube or in films) and speak directly to an audience. The biggest apprehensions they voiced were about whether research was actually going to benefit them, just elites or myself (Berghs 2012)? Despite social activism most people reiterated that impairment was ‘their problem’ and ‘survival’ was still their primary concern. There were also huge differences between educated male elites and people living in neglected rural areas, like orphans taken up in an extended family or illiterate women. Continue reading

Can special education make a difference?

Rune Sarromaa Hausstätter, PhD, Lillehammer University College, Norway

When placed in special education, the famous philosopher and cartoon hero Bart Simpson expressed his concern about the challenge he was supposed to overcome: how can I catch up the others by working slow? The concern expressed by Bart points at a serious challenge facing the area of special education. In a historical context, special education was offered, not as an alternative, but as a solution for groups of children that were not accepted by the ordinary educational system.  As the goal of creating a school for all children became a major political goal, the role of special education changed. The special school system continued to exist, but after the Second World War special education changed from being only an alternative located in special schools to also become an educational support system for ordinary teaching.

The role and success of special education as a support system for ordinary teaching is the topic in one of my recent articles, (1), published in the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research together with Marjatta Takala. The Finnish PISA results are another reason why we wanted to write this article. It is stated in several articles that one reason for the Finnish PISA success is the use of special education as an active support for children who struggle with school topics. In other words, it seems like the Finnish school system, at least partly, have solved the problem raised by Bart Simpson. The Finnish system is in this article compared with the Norwegian special educational system. Continue reading

Assisted Dying in Canada

Christopher A. Riddle, Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Director of the Institute of Applied Ethics, Utica College, NY, USA, email:

Nearing the end of 2011, The Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on EndofLife Decision Making released a detailed report exploring both the feasibility as well as desirability of making assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia legally permissible.  A report with similar recommendations was also released not long after by a Select Committee of the Quebec National Assembly on Dying with Dignity.  Both reports, while strongly recommending palliative care, ultimately suggested that assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia should be legally permissible.  This has understandably sparked a heated debate across the country.  My intention here is to support, albeit briefly, the findings of these reports.  While there are many objections to these reports, including, but not limited to the legal, religious, and medical, I will focus on what I view to be the most common concern expressed by disability theorists and advocates.

Margaret Somerville, a Catholic, legal scholar at McGillUniversity, expressed a concern in Canada’s National Post that seems to be echoed throughout disability literature on the topic. Continue reading

What about Global South?

Hisayo Katsui, Senior Researcher, Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Following the United Nations (UN) Decade of Disabled Persons between 1983-1992, the first African Decade of Persons with Disabilities started in 1999 and ended in 2009. The first Continental Plan of Action of the African Decade states in its Introduction, “The UN Decade of Disabled Persons had its successes and failures…its successes which were more pronounced in the northern hemisphere than elsewhere.” This was the primary reason why the Asia and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002), the Arab Decade of Disabled Persons (2003-2012), and the African Decade started. Both the Asia and Pacific and the African Decades were extended for another decade. Now that more than 110 countries around the globe have ratified the Convention, has there been significant positive change in the lives of persons with disabilities at grass roots in the global South? This writing is related to what Tom Shakespeare addressed and further provoked by Kristín Björnsdóttir but in the context of global South. Continue reading

From Prenatal screening to “After birth abortion”

Róisín Dermody, independent researcher and disability activist, Dublin, Ireland

Abortion is a highly contentious issue when the debate focuses on a woman’s right to choose and the right to life of the unborn child.  However, when the decision to abort is based on the detection of an impairment during prenatal screening, the debate takes on a whole new perspective. And now, we are asked to consider the case of “After birth Abortion”.

On the 23rd February 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article by  Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva which advocates for “after birth abortion” on the basis that:

1. Neither foetuses nor newborns have the same moral status as actual persons,

2. The fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and

3. Adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people.

Continue reading

Blogging Against Disablism Day 1st May 2012

 Hannah Morgan, Lecturer in Disability Studies, Lancaster University, UK

1st May is celebrated throughout the Nordic countries and beyond as a day of celebration and activism linked to our shared heritage in the international labour movement.  Since 2006 it has also become Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) coordinated by Diary of a Goldfish (1). The purpose of the day is to raise ‘awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made’.  As a discipline, an inter-disciplinary area of study or community of practice (depending on your perspective, we are nothing if not a broad church) Disability Studies has much to celebrate and affirm. Continue reading