Being who one wants : constructing participation within discourses of (dis)ability

Abstract: Background: The society is full of norms that label and categorise people based on abilities, traits, and appearance. People who deviate from normative ideals are subjected to practices of able-mindedness that can stigmatise and marginalise norm-breaking functionality and invoke intellectual disability labels. People in the margin of (dis)ability are often excluded from societal domains such as labour market and sports and may need help and support in their daily living which can limit opportunities for participation. As an effort to prevent exclusion for people with intellectual disability labels, specific dis-locations were created, that is, daily activity services, group homes and disability sports. Aim: The overall aim of the dissertation was to explore and discuss how and for whom participation was constructed in relation to practices of able-mindedness and position in (dis)ability. Method: The empirical data for the dissertation consists of four studies. Study I used qualitative semi-structured interviews to explore people having daily activity services’ experiences of participation and was analysed with qualitative content analysis. Study II used observations through the role of observer as participant with analysis focusing on discursive patterns on how power affects conditions for participation among residents in group homes. Study III used qualitative open-ended interviews analysed with thematic analysis to explore experiences of participation among athletes in disability sports. Study IV used semi-structured/open-ended interviews analysed with discourse analysis to explore how staff in social support services directed to people with intellectual disability and leaders in disability sports talk about participation. Results: The results show that practices of able-mindedness create codes of conduct and contextual limitations to the construction of participation. People with intellectual disability labels are positioned in the margin and in dis-locations, however, the normatively deviant margin can also be the centre. Participation is encouraged and an overarching aim of social support services and disability sports but only within the dis-locations. Conclusion: Able-mindedness affects one’s right to participation and position in societal hierarchy. Locations created for people with intellectual disability labels have good outcomes but are also ableist. The dissertation presents a base of knowledge for constructions of participation in central life contexts for people with intellectual disability labels and ideas of how able-mindedness influence participation. The results are vital for social work practices’ assessment of support services, how to work with participation and to challenge preconceptions about intellectual disability.

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