Disability organisations as social participation

Clubs and societies bring together members with a shared interest which also provides a platform for social participation. The same can be said for disability organisations – with some differences. Disability organisations are a hub of social activity, political activism, and a resource of lived experience for planners. A paper from Sweden looks at this concept focusing on rural communities.

Researchers found that interviewees have extensive social lives and that disability organizations act as a platform for many social interactions.

Two women sit under trees in an outdoor cafe. One sitting on a bench seat at a table and the other is using her rollator or wheelie walker as a seat.

Sometimes acquiring a disability such as rheumatism, prompts people to join groups such as the rheumatism association. Some disabilities cause people to leave paid work so this gives them time to channel their energies into these civic organisations. But it doesn’t end there. Members of these organisations also provide valuable lived experience for local authorities in planning.

There are three dimensions to disability organisations: social participation, political action, and a resource of lived experience. Just on the basis of participation, disability organisations provide good value for their government funding.

Protesters at a disability access rally. A woman is sitting in a wheelchair holding a sign saying access for all. She is wearing a blue jacket and wearing sunglasses.

Disability organisations, and the disability sector as a whole, provide inclusive spaces in which to socialise. The strength of inclusive spaces is they facilitate participation on equal terms. On the other hand, disability-specific places are potentially more flexible and adapted to individual needs. Disability organisations are a form of a disability-specific space which form a base for recognition and a political voice.

Living rural with disability

Living with disability in rural areas is viewed as more of a problem than in urban areas. According to the researchers this is a simplification of how people relate to their environment. Rurality and disability are two different concepts which are not complicated when put together.

The article is titled, “I am a very active person”: Disability organizations as platforms for participation in rural Sweden. The link provides an extended abstract and the full paper is available via institutional access.

A rural road with homes on each side. The homes are painted dark red with white windows.

From the abstract

Disability organizations are places for social interactions and for the accumulation of knowledge about disabilities as lived experiences. They also form a platform for dialogues and political influence work in the local community.

Participation means being included in societal activities in a way that suits the individual’s capacities and ambitions. The role of the public sector also enables participation. That’s because, in Sweden, it supports disability organizations and opens up opportunities to influence local planning.

If more support is given and more disability-specific arenas are created, there will be more open arenas for possible participation. What counts as participation must begin with individuals’ own experiences and values of what they appreciate and need in their daily lives.

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