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