Are there still unpopular sides of disability research?

Karen Christensen, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway

A long time ago – at least as it is defined in the academic world – in the 1990s, the British professor of social policy Clare Ungerson published an article: “Give them the money: Is cash a route to empowerment?” In this article she forecast many of the challenges implied by welfare policies intended to empower disabled people in their everyday lives by means of cash payments. The idea was that instead of letting disabled people receive traditional services such as home help they should receive money to employ their own care workers and this should be “a route to empowerment”. The important contribution that Ungerson made with this early article about these cash payments was to point to the care worker’s perspective within a welfare scheme that aimed at providing services on the users’ terms. As much as she criticized disability writers in this article and in later articles, as much was she criticized back by disability writers such as Jenny Morris and others. Continue reading

The Politics of Walking

Barbara Gibson, Associate Professor, Dept. of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto, Senior Scientist, Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto, Canada,

In 1993 Mike Oliver posed the question, what’s so wonderful about walking? (Oliver, 1993) and lamented that an uncritical ‘ideology of normality’ permeates rehabilitation.  He further commented that ‘(r)ehabilitation constructs the concept of walking uncritically in that it is never analyzed or discussed except in technical terms – what surgical operations can we perform, what aids can we provide and what practices can we use to restore the function of walking’ Others have also been critical of rehabilitation and its fundamental assumptions about disability (Davis, 1963; French &  Swain, 2001; Stiker, 2002 (1997)). These ideas however have been slow to reach the audience where they might make the most impact, that is, rehabilitation practitioners, educators and researchers. Continue reading

Right to the city: a disability perspective.

Inger Marie Lid, Associate Professor, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences,

Professor Edward Soja was in Oslo a few weeks ago and gave a guest lecture at University of Oslo, Faculty of Theology. The lecture and following discussion included topics on spatial justice and right to the city. In his book Seeking spatial justice (2010:75), Soja notes that early ideas about justice have revolved around urban-based civil rights and the actions of citizenry in a public realm (civil society). According to Soja, these ideas represent one of the earliest notions of specifically spatial justice, a conception of social justice in which geography matters in significant ways. Continue reading

How can we explain violence against disabled people?

Dan Goodley, Professor of Psychology and Disability Studies, University of Sheffield, School of Education,

It is perhaps not surprising to disability scholars though still sobering to learn, in the current climate of austerity and economic downturn, that disabled people are more likely to experience hate crime. A recent roundtable chaired by Tom Shakespeare of the World Health Organisation at the 2012 Disability Studies conference in Lancaster drew necessary attention to hate crimes in nations from Zimbabwe to England. One got a sense of a global epidemic of disablist hatred as contributors provided depressing and harrowing data on physical and psychological crimes. Conference delegates heard statistics on mental and sexual abuse, battery, vandalism of home and grievous bodily harm. These testimonies from colleagues such as Tsitsi Chataika and Alan Roulstone in the aforementioned nations importantly capture what is happening on the ground. Today. 2012. Actual acts of seemingly mindless violence. But how can we explain and understand this violence? What counts as violence against disabled people? And when we think of violence what do we have in mind? Whilst it is morally and politically necessary to recognise and challenge physical acts of violence – epitomised by hate crime – do other more subtle forms of violence exist that are as equally damaging to disabled people? Such questions might seem banal, trivial and typically academic. These questions appear to move away from the realities of hate-fuelled acts to the naval gazing realm of frothy theory often typified by those of a postmodern persuasion. Yet, on closer examination, one could conclude that these questions broaden the concept of violence and demand a more considered response. Continue reading

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