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About this book

In this absorbing text by a leading writer and respected activist, theory, policy, historical background and personal experience are combined to give readers a rich and illuminating picture of the key issues raised by disability.

In the author's uniquely clear and lively narrative style, the book explores:the practical and political challenges that disablement presents
theoretical understandings of disability
disability law and the realities of policy implementation
key points of contention for the disability movementThis long-awaited new edition of a best-selling text includes new stories from the author's experience, as well as sharply framed debate about
the development of policy over the last decade and a half. Its expansive coverage includes discussion of welfare, rehabilitation, special education and normalization.

This book is core reading for students of social work, nursing, health and applied social science taking modules in disability studies. Michael Oliver was the first Professor of Disability Studies in the United Kingdom and is Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich, UK. He is the author of the path-breaking The Politics of Disablement and Social Work with Disabled People (in its third edition, co-authored with Bob Sapey).

Table of Contents

Experiencing and Challenging a Disabling World

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
Leonard Cohen was recently asked to write a preface to his novel Beautiful Losers, which was being translated into Chinese. He ended this preface with the following plea to his Chinese readership: ‘Please forgive me if I have wasted your time.’ When the publisher asked me to consider a second edition of Understanding Disability I had a similar reaction. After all, I had retired five years ago and, with one or two exceptions, had not read a book or written anything significant about disability. I was determined not to become a ‘ghost’ professor haunting my old colleagues and adversaries from somewhere beyond my ivory tower, secure in the knowledge that my emeritus status and ageing profile would keep me safe from the worst excesses of academic debate and vitriolic criticism. So my initial reaction was that such a venture would be a waste of your time and mine.
Michael Oliver

1. From Personal Struggle to Political Understanding and Back Again

Abstract
This first chapter originally appeared in the first edition of this book. I decided to include it again because it will still help to throw some light on why I have written the things that appear later in the book as it remains rooted in my own personal biography, which I briefly outline. In the earlier edition I threatened that a more detailed description of my life might one day appear as an autobiography or as a thinly disguised novel. I hope, at this later stage, that I can reassure anyone who might feel worried about featuring in either of those two enterprises that neither is now likely to appear. Having written more than a million words during my academic career I do not intend to spend my retirement slaving over a word processor and I cannot imagine that there is much of a readership out there wanting to hear more from me. So this may be your last opportunity.
Michael Oliver

2. Mobility Impairment in a Social Context

Abstract
This chapter reproduces my Inaugural Professorial Lecture from 1993 and was published as Chapter 7 of the first edition of this book. I have reproduced it here for three reasons: first, the fact that I have had a mobility impairment for more than forty-five years has been of central importance in my life; second, my professorial lecture was an important landmark in my academic career; and, third, it shows that the claims that my work ignores impairment are false. I was tempted to update it but decided against because, despite the changing world, it still captures my essential views about the issues that I address therein.
Michael Oliver

3. The Social Model: History, Critique and Response

Abstract
The social model emerged from my encounter with the Fundamental Principles document (UPIAS, 1976) and the way it forced me to rethink my own experiences of impairment and disability. This chapter acknowledges this debt but there is not the space in this edition to include as much of the original document as I would like or I did in the first edition. I also reproduce a table illuminating the social model because, despite claims to the contrary, I still believe it has explanatory power for those coming new to the social model. The rest of the chapter is taken from a paper I gave at an ESRC-sponsored seminar organized by Colin Barnes at the University of Leeds in 2002, which was later turned into a chapter for publication. (Barnes and Mercer, 2004).
Michael Oliver

4. Unmet Promises of Disability Law and Policy

Abstract
There are three reasons for deciding to include this piece in the new edition. To begin with it shows how, even in two of the richest countries in the world with their own disability discrimination legislation, the reality of public exclusion still remains. Additionally, it shows how personal experiences can become the basis for sociological analysis and, finally, it enables me to express my anger and frustration at no longer flying because of my experiences described herein. It explores my own and a blind colleague’s experiences of using public transport systems in our respective countries of residence and their failures to take account of our needs. It then analyzes the implications for law and policy and suggests that transport systems have a long way to go before they adequately meet the needs of disabled travellers. It was co-written with an American colleague Beth Omansky and originally published in an American social studies reader (Rosenblum and Travis, 2003).
Michael Oliver

5. Special Education into the Twenty-first Century

Abstract
Education is something we all have experienced, either as teachers or learners; some of us have been both. As I have already indicated, my experiences at school were not particularly happy ones. When I found myself on the giving rather than receiving end of what we call teaching, my initial approach was to copy the way I had been taught. Why I did this I’m not sure because that approach had alienated me from the education system. Fortunately, I quickly came to realize that there were better ways and I found myself adopting what I would now call a ‘social model’ approach to teaching long before I had ever thought of the term ‘social model’. With the help of a supportive mentor I soon learned that the ‘art’ of teaching was to create the right conditions for people to learn for themselves.
Michael Oliver

Theorizing and Changing a Disabling World

Frontmatter

6. Disability and Normalization: A Critique

Abstract
The concept of normalization was first introduced in Scandinavia in the 1960s as an attempt to improve the lives of people who were then referred to as the mentally handicapped in Europe and the mentally retarded in North America. The vast majority of this group were segregated from society, either living in large institutions or isolated within their own families. The basic idea behind the concept was that services should be aimed enabling these people to lead ordinary lives living, learning and working in their own communities. While this idea seemed sensible and humanitarian and was quickly seized upon by politicians, policy-makers and professionals worried by emerging scandals over abuse in long-stay institutions, it also became somewhat controversial. The idea somehow got translated into policies aimed at trying to ‘make people normal’ with all that implies. So controversial did this become that in North America the basic idea was changed into giving people ‘normal social roles’ and normalization itself became social role valorization (SRV).
Michael Oliver

7. The Relevance of Emancipatory Research for Policy Development

Abstract
When I started my academic career I believed that social research was the most appropriate way to investigate the social world. It was only a matter of formulating the right questions, using the correct methods to find the answers and reporting the findings in an unbiased and objective manner. Then, so I thought, the world would change for the better. Every stone in the road (to borrow the term from Mary Chapin Carpenter) of my career as an academic researcher took me further away from that view, however. It was not so much a growing disillusionment with the potential and achievements of social research but rather a growing belief that there must be a better way to investigate the social world and to make significant changes for the better. I still retain some elements of that belief in the potential of social research, though its recent track record still leaves considerable room for improvement.
Michael Oliver

8. Disabling or Enabling Welfare: What Next for Disabled People?

Abstract
The original version of this chapter was written by Colin Barnes and myself as the final chapter in a book on disability and social policy which we wrote in the late 1990s (Barnes and Oliver, 1998). I have included it in this book because it attempts to bring together all of the areas of interest I specified in the Introduction to this new edition; namely theory, policy, practice and personal experience. While I have updated it somewhat, I have resisted the temptation to include any recent specific policy changes within the chapter itself. The reason for this is simply because our original purpose was both to lament the lack of any real vision about what the welfare state would look like from either the left or the right, and to try to tease out such a vision from disabled people’s own attempts to reorganize their own welfare through the development and promotion of independent living. A more recent and specific look at the influence of independent living on state-provided welfare can be found in Barnes and Mercer (2006).
Michael Oliver

9. Disability Politics and the Disabled People’s Movement in Britain

Abstract
A few years ago Colin Barnes and myself were asked to write a discussion paper on what was happening to the disabled people’s movement in Britain for Coalition, the journal of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) (2006). This we did, but it did not generate the kind of debate that Coalition had hoped for. Sometime later, I met Vic Finkelstein when we were both in hospital and he told me he had written a detailed response, but that the Manchester Coalition were having difficulties publishing it. He sent us both copies and it was posted on the Disability Archive at the University of Leeds. I also suggested to him that it would be good to include it in the second edition of this book and he agreed.
Michael Oliver

10. Disablement into the Twenty-first Century

Abstract
In 1999 I was invited by the University of Glasgow to give a lecture to celebrate the opening of their new Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research. I was delighted to accept and, as we were all going millennium crazy at the time, I decided to take as my theme the changing times for disabled people. I was, of course, aware that many years ago Bob Dylan had addressed this theme in one of his songs and so I decided to use the lecture both to explore my chosen theme and to pay homage to someone who was a key influence on my thinking.
Michael Oliver

11. Personalizing the Political and Politicizing the Personal

Abstract
The final chapter of the first edition examined the issue of the relationship between the individual and the collective. This relationship is an issue for all political and social movements, for social theory, social policy and service development; all topics which have been discussed extensively in this book. It also raises the question of the relationship between the processes of individual and collective empowerment which leads to the crux of political life itself, the relationship between individual and social action. I want to return to these issues here, but in the light of changing circumstances of the last decade, in particular the decline in the power and influence of the disabled people’s movement which has been accompanied by the resurrection of the big charities who have built a formidable alliance with newly created government organizations, such as the Disability Rights Commission (which has now become the Equalities and Human Rights Commission) and the Office for Disability Issues.
Michael Oliver
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