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Universal design – a challenge to structural/institutional discrimination? Senior Adviser Aina Olsen, The Delta Centre, Norway.

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Presentation on theme: "Universal design – a challenge to structural/institutional discrimination? Senior Adviser Aina Olsen, The Delta Centre, Norway."— Presentation transcript:

1 Universal design – a challenge to structural/institutional discrimination? Senior Adviser Aina Olsen, The Delta Centre, Norway

2 | 2 Fields of study 1.Working life and “the culture of new capitalism” 2.Man-made environments 3.Institutions and organising of services 4.Discursive constructions 5.Cognitive structures and roles.

3 | 3 Universal design in Norway The concept was introduced in Norway in 1997 Integral part of Norwegian laws and regulations, action plans, standardisation, guidelines etc. Lack of accessibility: example of discrimination Act relating to prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability (Discrimination and Accessibility Act ) – in force from 1 January 2009

4 | 4 Structural/institutional discrimination los Reyes & Kamal (2005): Rooted in the institutional structure, ideologies, policies, and procedures Invisible and unintentional Made systematic, normal and part of everyday life Justifies negative spesial treatment of the ”other”” We” and ”they”

5 | 5 1 Working life The economy of the new capitalism: immediate achievements and short time profit (Sennett 2001) Requirements on functional abilities have changed. Limit to people’s capacities Is universal design a logical consequence of this development? More and more people may not be able to meet the requirements.

6 | 6 2 Man-made environments People with disabilities have not been taken into account when environments are designed. Justifies and normalises stigmatising special solutions. Stigma: “a profound effect across a wide range of outcomes, including well-being and self-esteem, self- perception, group identification, motivation, task performance and social interaction (Levin & van Laar 2006)

7 | 7 Man-made environments con. Dismantling of disabling barriers  reduce the need for stigmatising solutions More universal design  increase participation More accessibility and participation for all  a positive signal of the diversity of the population  changing of attitudes But: How is concept be understood? How will the new law be effectuated? Structural discrimination a more powerful enemy?

8 | 8 3 Institutions The administration and practices of institutions may lead to discriminating actions through routines and silent agreement that sanctions special treatments (de los Reyes & Kamali 2005). Gatekeepers The relation between the provider and the receiver of services: a asymmetrical relationsship Disability benefits granted on diagnosis. Strong dependance  powerlessness and resignation Focusing on disabled in separate laws, institutions, research etc, a double-edged sword?

9 | 9 “The main problem is that it is always referred to the whole group of disabled people. Yet we are so different, and we have so different problems. As long as you put all persons with impairment into the same disability box, and then do research on their living conditions, it does not make sense.” (Knøsen, & Krokan, 2003: The silent discrimination)

10 | 10 Institutions con. Good solutions for persons with disabilities, are most often good solutions for all. Universal design  more people independent of help  more resources on people who need it the most  less people on social benefit Participation and independence  positive impact on well-being and self-esteem However: Do we underestimate the power of myths and prejudices rooted in a historic, cultural and economic reality?

11 | 11 4 Discursive constructions set of metaphors, stories and ideas that constitute an integral part of a logical system of practice. standardised in the sense that they establish specific ways of interpreting the world and act according to it. also operate through exclusion and cover up (de los Reyes & Kamali, 2005 p.16) Not only a linguistic activity – create and recreate social realities (Hjulstad 2004)

12 | 12 Discursive constructions con. 1.Concepts; e.g. ‘disability’ – medical and individualistic understanding has still a strong position. 2.Law texts e.g. ‘persons with disabilities ‘persons with reduced work capacity’ – does not comply with the official understanding of disability in Norway 3.Attitudes in everyday language: “You’r too heavy!” Impact on the individual: No possibility to defend oneself Undermines the personality, leads to “otherisation” Something is wrong with you!

13 | 13 5 Cognitive structures and roles Structural discrimination: a breeding ground for unworthy roles Overachiver Underachiever/”identity as disabled” If structural discrimination can arise from ways of designing, organising and shaping the physical surroundings of people’s lives, universal design of physical environments and services may contribute to the dismantling of mental barriers as well?

14 | 14 Conclusions Universal design may challenge structural/institutional discrimination. However: Our thinking and understanding is in danger of being absorbed by the same mechanisms. Awareness of the impact of structural discrimination is vital in our struggle for a society based on equity and equality. More studies are necessary.

15 | 15 Thank you for listening! Aina Olsen Tel. +47 24 16 35 27 A copy of my presentation and paper will be put on

16 | 16 ”I thought I could organise freedom. How Scandinavian of me!” Björk

17 | 17 Users. There it is again. I am fed up of this term. It is as if they think we feel less different, more normal if we call us users instead of disabled. Or handicapped, invalid, crippled, client – we really have got a nice collection of designations during the years. (Knøsen & Krokan 2003 )

18 | 18 “ We are deprived of the roles other people can adapt according to situation and need, and we enter a disability role where we are expected to be humble, grateful and happy. This role is even accepted by our organisations that are supposed to fight for equality.” (Knøsen & Krokan, 2003)

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