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Realizing the political rights of persons with disabilities

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PODI (Realizing the political rights of persons with disabilities)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31

What was the issue being addressed?
Realizing the political rights of persons with disabilities (PODI) has examined these political rights and focused on the political participation of civil society organisations. Taking as its point of departure the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, PODI has examined under which conditions disabled people's organisations are most likely to achieve political voice and influence on decision-making processes of importance for their own lives and for society as a whole, including examples of promising practice.

Why is it important for society?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires Member States’ governments, and the EU, to ‘closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities’, notably ‘through their representative organizations’. This includes legislative consultation, opportunities for political participation, and full involvement in rights monitoring systems. The UN has expressed concern about shortcomings in the involvement of disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) both at the national level and in the EU. To overcome the shortcomings and enable monitoring of progress in the involvement of DPOs, the UN has recommended developing a human rights based indicators system. PODI has produced new knowledge to help make this a reality.

What have been the overall objectives?
PODI has launched the first cross-national and multilevel study of disability movements in Europe, beginning with in-depth data from four European countries (UK, Norway, Germany and Italy), and from EU and UN institutions. It has identified facilitators and barriers to implementation, and identified the need for indicators that will aid the EU and European governments in monitoring their fulfilment of the UNCRPD. PODI has:
1. compared forms of self-organisation among persons with disabilities in four European countries – including people with mobility, visual, psychosocial (mental health) and cognitive impairments.
2. defined the mechanisms of consultation, mobilisation and collective voice by which disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have been represented and engaged in political participation.
3. indicated the conditions under which DPOs are most likely to achieve voice and influence in decision-making processes, including examples of promising practice.
4. established a framework for future international comparative research concerning DPOs and disability movements.
New data has been generated from semi-structured interviews with key informants in DPOs and government in the four countries, and at the EU level. The project has been carried out together with the European Disability Forum, Brussels. The Centre for Disability Studies, the University of Leeds, has collaborated with civil society organizations of persons with disabilities (via the European Disability Forum) in all stages of the project.
While existing research has argued that the emerging human rights regime has created new opportunities for disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to side-step national authorities and mobilise at the EU and UN level, the project has examined how national policies influence the capacities of DPOs to take advantage of the new political opportunities. After the Second World War the countries have built social protection systems to ensure that citizens are insured against the social risks that may threaten their wellbeing. However, these countries have developed quite distinct disability policies. While Norway has been characterised by relatively benign relations between the government and DPOs and a high degree of coordination among national DPOs, the UK has been characterised by more adversarial relations between the government and DPOs, with a more prominent role for charities and a more fractioned disability movement. Germany and Italy have represented intermediary cases between Norway and the UK, with phases of both cooperation and contention.

The data demonstrates that national disability policies have shaped not only the relationship between national authorities and the DPOs but also the capacity for collective action and social mobilisation among disabled people. Persons with visual and mobility disabilities were more likely to enjoy social recognition as subjects entitled to participation on a par with persons without disabilities, to have a sense of entitlement to make claims, and to mobilise together with others in a similar situation to pursue their justice demands. Conversely, persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities more often suffered from social misrecognition, were more inclined to blame themselves for their situation and limit their contact with others in a similar situation.

The project has examined how useful a structuration approach is for the study of the relationship between welfare policy reforms and the evolvement of the disability movements in Europe. The project has contributed a better understanding of how an analytic framework informed by Strong Structuration Theory may overcome the current cleavage in social movement theory. Since the 1980-90s, social movement theory has been divided between a focus on (i) the structural conditions for social movement mobilisation and (ii) the construction of collective identity and meaning as drivers in social movements. By placing ‘habitus’ centre stage in social movement analysis researchers may achieve new knowledge about the mechanisms that structure citizenship movements, and overcome the dualism that has characterised much of the social movement literature.
The project has contributed to develop an innovative analytic framework for the study of the rise and fall of social movements. Compared to other and alternative analytic approaches an analytic framework informed by Strong Structuration Theory brings the researcher’s attention to the relationship between the societal conditions (‘external structures’) and individual perceptions, taken-for-granted views, habits, ways of coping and self-identity.
By adopting a comparative approach PODI has contributed to widen the scope of research about the disability movement from largely national studies to a cross-national comparison. The study has revealed how national differences in opportunity structures, policy actors and processes shape the deliberation and democratic governance of the disability policy. The research findings have laid the groundwork for the development of multilevel indicators to aid the EU and European governments in monitoring their fulfilment of the UN CRPD.
Dr Halvorsen presents findings from the project in Lille, France