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Disabled people and employment : recovering histories and contemporary practices

By Peter Wheeler


This thesis argues that the claim that disability is capable of reduction to two polar opposite models of disability cannot be sustained. Drawing on historical data, it is shown that for over the past century organised groups of disabled people were proactive in affecting social change without recourse to medical intervention, fighting for economic emancipation. Hence claims that the social model of disability represents a new understanding are incorrect. It is shown that the dominant traditional intellectual understandings of disability were not reducible to simplistic oppositional medical/social models, but rather a more complex combination which acknowledged both components in the construction of disability. To test this understanding, a comparison was made between two contemporary organisations who have the mission of engaging disabled people in work, and might be expected to operate to the oppositional social/medical models.\ud \ud Through an ethnographic study in an organisation run and controlled by disabled people and participatory observation in a government employment initiative for disabled people, it is shown through the organic understandings held by stakeholders in both organisations that mutually exclusive models could not be seen in everyday operations, and despite one organisation working explicitly to a social model of disability, they could not escape the reality of impairment when claiming that disability was singularly the result of disabling attitudes and social structures. Hence the social model organisation could not provide any better employment opportunities than one operating to traditional intellectual understandings.\ud \ud Through considering my own impairment and the traditional prescriptive methodological texts which assume a non disabled researcher, a methodological contribution is made by challenging understandings held in both positivist and interpretive approaches. It is also argued, that emancipatory disability research by disregarding any consequences of impairment, fails to make the challenges necessary to provide a more inclusive model

Topics: HD, HV
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