Disability and (Virtual) Institutions?: Interventions, Integration and Inclusion

21 Jun to 22 Jun

Coordinators: Linda Steele (University of Technology Sydney), Penelope Weller (RMIT University, Melbourne Australia), Claire Spivakovsky (Monash University)

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Description of the meeting

From the 1970s a number of western jurisdictions moved people with disability out of institutional settings and into the community. In part this move is attributed to recognition of the violent, exploitative and oppressive conditions in these spaces. Yet, since this time, scholars and activists have questioned the success of deinstitutionalisation – arguing that individuals were left with insufficient housing and social/economic support, and ultimately that many individuals ended up in impoverished circumstances and, at the extreme, back in institutional settings or subject to institution-like forms of control and restraint in the community. Numerous social issues such as homelessness, police shootings of civilians and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system are attributed to the failure of deinstitutionalisation and the socio-legal problems of housing it posed. At the same time, the persistent attribution of these problems to deinstitutionalisation has served to mask deeper political and socio-economic factors which have contributed to the ongoing marginalisation of people with disability.

Recently, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has put a spotlight on the marginalisation of people with disability in mainstream human rights instruments, and their related inequality, discrimination and impoverishment and social and political marginalisation. The CRPD explicitly provides for rights related to freedom to live in the community, as well as self-determination relating to such aspects as accommodation and living arrangements, relationships, and health care. It also provides that people with disability should not be subjected to violence, restraint or deprivation of liberty on a basis related to their disability, and that measures must be taken to prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse experienced by this group both within and outside the home.

Yet at a domestic level, many states parties to the UNCPRD have resisted making legal and social policy reforms which would realise these rights, and many practices reminiscent of institutions continue. These practices continue, including through punishment in the community, discriminatory employment practices, and use of restrictive practices in group homes and therapeutic settings.

Now is a timely moment to stop and reflect on law’s complex role in contemporary practices affecting people with disability.

The workshop will involve each participant closely examining a particular contemporary law or social policy issue, in the context of interdisciplinary theories, international human rights, and broader historical and political trajectories of people with disability. Disability will be defined broadly, consistent with the approach taken in the CRPD, to include physical, cognitive, psychosocial and sensory disability.

It will be particularly attentive to how purportedly progressive ideas of ‘community’, ‘access’, ‘support,’ ‘participation,’ ‘integration’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘recovery’ might have been harnessed by law and social policy in a way that has hindered the rights, wellbeing and equality of people with disability. Ultimately, the workshop will interrogate whether current circumstances, in which law is complicit, have resulted in ‘virtual’ institutional conditions.

In a recognition of the importance of respecting diversity and intersectionality, the case studies presented at the workshop will explore various dimensions of disabled populations across the life course and across other dimensions of identity, including children and youth in juvenile justice, state care and schools, older persons with disability, and Indigenous persons with disability.

Mindful of the contemporary significance of the CRPD and the role of trans-jurisdiction alliances in advancing law and social policy reforms at a domestic level, this workshop will draw together scholars from a range of countries. It will also provide a vital role in developing support networks and mentoring capacity in the discipline of critical disability law – an emerging scholarly area with no international scholarly association or conference.

The workshop will make a significant contribution to socio-legal studies because it will advance interdisciplinary conceptual scholarship, develop the capacity of scholars to apply their scholarship to pressing international issues, promote the development of an emerging scholarly discipline of critical disability law, and develop capacity for scholars to provide mutual support and career development on an ongoing basis. Part of the workshop will be an opportunity to discuss the formation of an ongoing international network with significant career development component.

It is appropriate to have this workshop in Spain because Spain was recently recognised for its work in improving the human rights of people with disabilities, being awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt International Disability Rights Award in 2013. Moreover, the workshop cuts across a number of the priority areas of the Institute for the Sociology of Law, including:

- Socio-legal problems of housing: the core of the workshop topic is about questioning the legacy of institutionalisation in law and social policy and how contemporary issues around housing (group homes, mental health facilities, prisons, juvenile custody) and socioeconomic disadvantage can be addressed through law.

- Impact of legal reform implemented recently in Basque Country: Dr Melania Moscoso-Pérez (University of the Basque Country) will be presenting on this topic. Dr Susana Rodríguez and Dr Lucas Platero will present on Spanish disability law more broadly.

- Measures adopted by youth courts: In taking a life course and intersectional approach, the workshop will consider the role of juvenille justice, out of home care, schooling and early intervention health services on legal and social policy approaches to people with disability.

Our experience in Oñati

The ‘Disability and (Virtual) Institutions?’ workshop provided scholars from Spain, Australia, Canada, UK and Indonesia with the opportunity to explore relationships between law, disability and institutions. Scholars came to the workshop from a variety of disciplines including law, criminology, social work, social policy, sociology, nursing and anthropology, and brought with them diverse professional and life experiences. The workshop enabled interdisciplinary and transjurisdictional discussions which illuminated a number of significant themes: the uncertainty and even ambivalence surrounding the meaning and political relevance of the institution in contemporary disability rights era, the limits of law reform in a context of austerity, neoliberal individual responsibilisation and structural social deprivation, the largely unexplored role in sociolegal scholarship of the interface of family and institutions, and the difficulties of engaging law to achieve substantive equality. The workshop also provided an opportunity to build an interdisciplinary sociolegal disability research community and the participants will be continuing to support each other’s research, with plans to reconvene in coming years. The workshop participants enjoyed the peacefulness and beauty of the Onati village and surrounding countryside, and the wonderful accommodation and food. The workshop organisers sincerely thank Malen Gordoa Mendizabal and her IISL colleagues for all of their work organizing the workshop.

For more information: 

Workshop Coordination Team

Avenida de la Universidad, 8
Apartado 28
20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
T: +34 943 78... Ver teléfono
E: workshop@iisj.es