Abstract

Law and policy around disability in Portugal, as elsewhere, are undergoing rapid change towards a model based on human rights for all. Whether this transformation translates into real gains for people with disabilities, however, is yet to be proved. This paper addresses this question by undertaking a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the single most important policy instrument in the disability arena in Portugal: the First National Action Plan for the Integration of People with Disabilities and Impairment (PAIPDI). The analysis demonstrates that while presented under a somehow different package—one in which a new discourse on rights is highlighted—there is much continuity in how the problem of disability is represented and managed in the Portuguese society. However, the adoption of the rights discourse on disability also signals an important shift, one that reflects the increased hegemony of the disability movement, not just nationally but globally. In this sense, new and exciting possibilities for disabled people are opening up to reshape the power relations that in the past have sustained their domination. Its potential, however, will greatly depend on the ability of the disability movement to build on this momentum and use human rights as a tool to push for disability justice in social, and not just discursive, practices.

Power has tended on balance to migrate from material practice to discourse—it is still internalized in both, but its internalization in discourse has become more pervasive. (Chouliaraki and Fairclough, 2004, p. 267)

Power struggles often take the form of discursive practices. Political texts are therefore an object per excellence to study how relations of power are enacted in discourse, and with what sorts of consequences (Fairclough, 1995). By linking language to the broader social and political context, critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a valuable tool for researching processes of social and cultural change. In this paper, I set out to investigate the changing terrain of disability policy, a territory that is being revamped worldwide through a new focus on disability as a rights issue. For this purpose, I undertake a critical discourse analysis of an important policy instrument in the disability arena in Portugal: the First National Action Plan for the Integration of People with Disabilities and Impairments, 2006-09 (PAIPDI). This policy document has been said to represent a paradigm shift in disability policy in Portugal toward a model based on human rights for all. My analysis takes the PAIPDI and the proposals it contains, not just as a particular response to some predefined problem of disability, but itself as a form of action. I am especially interested in examining how the Plan represents disability, and what the effects of that representation might be, including where gaps and silences leave issues unproblematized (Bacchi, 1999). This perspective leads me to explore the discourses that are articulated and privileged in Portuguese disability policy, the interests that these discourses reflect, and the broader social effects that they may imply, particularly in their consequences for the human rights of women with disabilities. Moving beyond a discussion of policy gaps and deficiencies, my inquiry thus seeks to uncover hidden assumptions and ideologies, and the power relations that shape Portuguese state actions towards people with disabilities, particularly those who are women. More importantly, it aims to expose the contradictions that have emerged in this process of change, as well as the efforts being made to preserve and renew hegemonic powers.

My interest in this topic has roots in the political work I have developed in the disability field in Portugal for over two decades. As a long time activist in the sector, I have been deeply involved in the Portuguese disability movement that I now want to study and explain as an academic. Reflecting this political engagement and "insider view," my analysis thus hopes to elucidate the significance of disability politics in Portugal while contributing to its ongoing development. This methodological approach brings me closer to what Alain Touraine (1978) has described as "sociological intervention," a methodology characterized by the active participation of the researcher in collective action, in order to better understand and analyze collective action. My fluency in Portuguese and English as well as my familiarity with the disability rights movement in Portugal facilitated the analysis and translation of relevant excerpts of the PAIPDI which are shown throughout the paper.

By choosing to focus on a policy document as relevant as the PAIPDI, I recognize that this document represents an important step forward in raising the issue of disability in the political agenda in Portugal to a level never achieved before. At the same time, however, as I explore the uses of language and the often paradoxical discourses that permeate this instrument as well as their social effects, I highlight the tensions and limitations that persist. The ultimate goal of this project is, therefore, to open up a space for conversation that may contribute to the continuing improvement of policy affecting people with disabilities in Portugal, and perhaps elsewhere too. Before beginning that discussion, however, let me first briefly outline the theoretical scope and methodological approach of critical discourse analysis.

Critical Discourse Analysis: A Theory and Method of Analysis

There are various methods for the study of texts, but my analysis follows Norman Fairclough's approach (1992; 1995; Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999). Premised on the notion that texts cannot be analysed in isolation from the wider social context, Fairclough offers a three-dimensional model for CDA that encompasses: (1) the examination of the linguistic features of texts (the level of the text); (2) the exploration of processes related to the production and consumption of texts (the level of the discursive practice); and (3) the consideration of the wider social and cultural context to which the text as a "communicative event" belongs (the level of the sociocultural practice). Central to Fairclough's framework is a dialectical view of discursive and nondiscursive facets of the social world. Such a framework, however, does not reduce social life to discourse (as in post-modern perspectives); rather it recognizes the interpenetration and over-determination of the multiple elements of the social (including discourse) on one another. Discourse is therefore posited as one "moment" among six others in social processes (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 2004), all of them interconnecting and penetrating each other. In this sense, discourse becomes "a form of power, a mode of formation of beliefs/values/desires, an institution, a mode of social relating, a material practice. Conversely, power, social relations, material practices, institutions, beliefs, etc, are in part discourse" (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 6). The focal problem for CDA, then, is to untangle and explain how these "flows" take place. And, by demonstrating how things are and have come to be, CDA is also able to suggest how they could be different, and thereby that they can be changed (Hammerlsy, 2003). CDA is thus particularly useful in the context of Disability Studies, for it supports politically committed research that aims to promote social change and redress social injustices. The analysis of the PAIPDI that follows provides a clear example.

Introducing the PAIPDI

Commissioned by the Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity of the XVII Constitutional Government, the PAIPDI is a joint enterprise of the Office of the State Secretary for Rehabilitation and the National Secretariat for the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with Disabilities. Spanning a temporal horizon of three years, the Plan was introduced as an "innovative" instrument that, "for the first time concentrates and organizes in a coherent form core elements of the various sides of disability policy" (Gabinete da Secretária de Estado Adjunta, 2006, p. 7). In addition to being available online, the document is published as a 150-page brochure, printed in good quality paper, mostly made up of thick text without pictures, but punctuated here and there by tables presenting quantitative data in relation to the topics being addressed. The format chosen immediately suggests that this was not a document designed to be used and owned by the largely uneducated Portuguese population with disabilities1, as it seems to require a highly literate audience (most likely to be found in the state bureaucracy or in the management of the non-profits that provide services to the disabled population throughout the country).

The policy document is structured in two parts. Part I sets the stage by framing the government's new understanding and approach to disability, and offering a profile of people with disabilities in Portugal and their representative organizations. Part II is further divided into two chapters. Chapter 1 outlines policy strategies for three areas of intervention, which are respectively entitled: accessibilities and information, education, qualification and labour inclusion, and assuring a life with dignity. Chapter 2 identifies and considers the conditions for intervention, which again are organized along three areas: research and development, information and knowledge management, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and their impact. The final pages of the document contain tables summarizing the dimensions and strategies of the plan and setting up, in yearly intervals for each of them, the timeline execution as well as the Ministry and/or public department responsible for implementation. In the analysis that follows, I consider the text in its entirety, but for analytical purposes I address separately each of the three dimensions of Fairclough's framework—the text, the discursive practice, and the sociocultural practice.

Exploring the "Texture" of the PAIPDI: Crafting a New Vocabulary for Disability

The first dimension of Fairclough's framework calls for the analysis of the "texture of the text," or in other words, its form and organization at all levels, including the grammatical and lexical, as well as the structures of argumentation used. Attention to the text can shed light onto the ways in which language works to construct identities and social relations, and thus the method has special relevance to policy analysis. The specific element of textual analysis that I want to discuss here is the "metaphor." Metaphors are important tools through which texts construct particular versions of reality. As Fairclough (1992) argues: "When we signify things through one metaphor rather than another, we are constructing our reality in one way rather than another. Metaphors structure the way we think and the way we act, and our systems of knowledge and belief, in a pervasive and fundamental way" (p. 195).

The PAIPDI can be said to be structured around the metaphor of the "turning point"—the Plan is depicted (and, indeed, the overall political platform of the XVII government) as a crucial moment in time, one that breaks up with the past and old traditions by introducing a new understanding and a new language to describe disability. A considerable proportion of the text is therefore dedicated to framing the problem of disability anew, as a backdrop to trace a new policy approach to people with disabilities in Portugal. The metaphor of the "turning point" emerges right in the Preface, in the letters of the Minister of Employment and Social Affairs and of the Adjoint State Secretary of Rehabilitation, which introduce the publication. The government is said to have realized "a turning point in the Portuguese institutional tradition," by creating "for the first time" a separate structure in the government to deal with disability issues; in turn, the Plan is categorically presented as a document, which "innovates in the method and the substance," and thus represents "a qualitative turning point in the disability policy in Portugal" (p. 7, emphasis added). This image is further reinforced through the use of words such as change," and policy "reorientation" or "reformulation," which are recurrent throughout the text, often appearing qualified by adjectives such as "new" or "radical"— as in "radical paradigm shift" (p. 16). To stress the importance of the changes that the Plan is said to enact, an emphatic language rich in adjectives is frequently used, especially in Part I, as in the following examples: "crucial role" (p. 17), "unquestionable usefulness" (p. 19), "determinant role" (p. 19), and "relevant strategy" (p. 19). This language is characteristic of political discourse because it aims to convey political conviction and commitment to ideas and causes. In this particular case, it may further serve to offer a sense of reassurance that is perhaps made more necessary in the context of the "radical" shift that the Plan dictates. Essentially, in its first part, the PAIPDI outlines a new definition of what constitutes disability and advances a new vocabulary to describe people with disabilities. In order to accomplish this "paradigm shift," the Plan develops an argument based upon three main strategies. The first one operates to dismiss old ideas and concepts of disability. The second is directed toward providing a scientific basis for the new approach advanced. And finally, the third stresses the importance of using universal language and concepts to describe and address disability.

As mentioned above, the first strategy involves the idea that old-fashioned concepts and understandings, informed by the medical, individual model of disability, led in the past to the marginalization of disabled people, a situation this Plan is intended to correct:

"The traditional vision of disability … as a condition changing the essence of the person … is therefore associated with the social and professional construction of an image of people with disabilities which tends to be devalued and that persists in some areas. The effects of segregation that such perspective tends to produce are well-known." (p. 14, italics in original)

In a clear rupture with this tradition, the Plan therefore adopts a vision that recognizes the role of the social and physical environment in processes that create disability, and promises a new generation of policies: "the recognition of the influence of the environment, as facilitator or barrier … implies in policy terms that actions and interventions are directed to the promotion of accessible and skill-generating means, social attitudes, and positive policies that lead to opportunities of participation and positive person/environment interactions" (p. 16).

The second strategy used in the Plan, in arguing for change, offers a scientific basis that legitimizes the government's new approach to disability. In this sense, the "evolution" to the new concept of disability proposed by the PAIPDI is said to be, "consistent with the advances achieved in the understanding of human development throughout the life cycle, notably theories of social ecology and bioecology of the human development, and the progress achieved with scientific studies and research in biological and social sciences (genetics, neuro-science, social policies)" (p. 15). In other words, it is science and theory that inform the new government understanding and approach to disability. By grounding the argument for change on scientific progress and knowledge, the Plan is able to reinforce its own credibility, and thus potentially widen the acceptance for the kind of changes it proposes. According to the text, the data that have become available in recent years have fundamentally questioned the validity of former biomedical conceptions of disability, and therefore also propelled "a reorientation of policies and practices" (p. 15), which the PAIPDI is said to represent.

Finally, the third strategy of this argument emphasizes the need for a universal vocabulary to define and address disability. Of the three strategies used, this is the most elaborated one. At its core, the argument for change is embodied in the acceptance of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2001, as the new key instrument for policy planning, implementation, and evaluation in the field of disability. The ICF is presented in the text as a "new multidimensional and interactive system of classification" that can "describe the status of functioning of the person" (p.16) on the basis of an interactive and dynamic model of person-environment relationship. This model, it is argued, rejects previous classification systems, which used to label individuals according to static categories of diagnosis. In this sense, the new tool is said to "introduce a paradigm shift"—"from the pure medical model to a biopsychosocial and integrated model of human functioning and disability," bringing together "all aspects of health: biologic, individual and social" (p. 16).

One of the greatest benefits that are claimed to have emerged from the adoption of the ICF is the universalization of language in the field of disability. Indeed, as it is stated, "one of the most important goals of the WHO with this new classification system was to define a common language and a conceptual framework that would standardize concepts, methodologies and criteria" (p. 17).

The homogenization of language and concepts is deemed "crucial" to develop "evidence based policy and practice" (p. 17) that will enable "comparability and greater visibility of disability issues" (p. 17), both at national and international levels. The Plan then goes on to spell out the changes that the ICF introduces in the disability vocabulary—the term disability acquiring a new meaning that involves "a more complex and encompassing notion that includes different degrees of limitations in functioning related to both the person and the environment" (p. 18), as opposed to just describing the biologic condition of the individual. Hence, the document is firm and clear in asserting its intention to implement the ICF "as a structuring and guiding measure of policy and action" (p. 22), notably useful for the definition of new "eligibility criteria" for accessing disability benefits and services in the areas of education, employment, social security, transportation, and so forth. It is, therefore, the adoption and implementation of the ICF in Portugal, with its new language and most importantly its new system of classification that truly embodies the metaphor of the "turning point," a metaphor central to the elaboration of the Plan. Integral to all sectors, the ICF emerges as the tool, and the key, that will open up a new era of disability policy and practice in Portugal.

When discourses are approached primarily as "linguistic artefacts," Fairclough (1995) points out, it is important to pay attention to both what is "in" a text and what is left "out." For all of its discourse on change, what is clearly out of the PAIPDI is a gender lens or any consideration of the differential impact of past or future policies on disabled women and men. Especially when presenting the new strategies, the text is entirely gender-blind, addressing people with disabilities as an asexual group, always talked about as a collective. However, abundant evidence confirms a gendered pattern in access to disability-related benefits and services amongst the Portuguese population with disabilities, which works toward the disadvantage of women (Sousa et al., 2007b, 2007c; Pereira et al., 2010). Indeed, a number of studies have shown that within the disabled population, women are overrepresented among those who have no education and have not completed elementary school, and slightly under-represented among those with secondary and postsecondary education. They also present lower rates of economic activity than disabled men, and the few of them who have been able to find a job are, in more significant numbers than men, relegated to "Unqualified Occupations" (Sousa et al., 2007a). These data suggest that measures to address the structural inequalities facing women with disabilities are crucially needed. And yet, these measures are absent from this Plan.

The only distinction that seems to be allowed in the document marks out those who may present "more severe functional limitations" (p. 89), for whom, it is recognized, special measures need to be developed. For example, when discussing policy goals in relation to the social security system, the Plan affirms that "the new legal framework must take into consideration the increased needs of people with profound functioning limitations" (p. 91, my emphasis).

The targeting of policy initiatives on those perceived as more severely affected is not a Portuguese invention—it has been signalled as one of the current trends in European disability policy (Cohu, Lequet-Slama, & Velche, 2005). This move constructs a new and narrower category of people—the deserving disabled—for whom support is available, while it risks leaving unprotected larger numbers of others whose levels of needs, although significant, may not be sufficient to qualify for special services and/or benefits. I come back to this point later in my analysis. For the moment, suffice it to say that the ICF is again instrumental in achieving this kind of differentiation, as the Plan sets up the classification as the basis for the new system of "certification" of impairments and disabilities across all sectors (p. 93). In short, both in what it includes (a new focus on the most disadvantaged), as in what it leaves out (an account of the intersections of disability with other markers of social inequality such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so forth), the PAIPDI is actively constructing a particular understanding of what it means to be a disabled person in Portugal. In order to produce such constructs, the text articulates several genres and orders of discourse. Next, I undertake their analysis.

Text as "Discursive Practice": Examining the Interdiscursivity in the PAIPDI

In CDA, genre is defined as the "type of language used in the performance of a particular social practice" (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 57)—for example, the fictional genre, the legal genre, and so on. An order of discourse, in turn, is characterized as, "a socially structured articulation of discursive practices (including both genres and discourses)" (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 114). The concept is linked to Bourdieu's notion of field, which identifies a social space and network of positions in interconnection, as well as potential conflict, with other fields (for example, the journalistic field, the political field, etc). The discursive characteristics of a specific field, then, are its "order of discourse" (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 13). The discourse order, however, is both a system and a practice, and thus is constantly open to change through the articulation of different genres in communicative events—in other words, as they are often hybrid, discursive practices systematically redraw boundaries and relations between fields. In each specific discourse practice, the links between text and social and cultural context are mediated through the mobilization of different orders of discourse. To analyze such links, CDA undertakes interdiscursive analysis. Given CDA's interest in social change, this analysis focuses particularly on how boundaries and flows of orders of discourse are shifting in our societies (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 116).

In the PAIPDI, as I have already signalled, there is an articulation of two orders of discourse—the political and the scientific. The political discourse is framed by a rights approach to disability, as is evidenced in the following statement, contained in the introductory pages of the Plan: "To promote and consolidate the respect for human rights, to promote equality of opportunities, to fight discrimination and to ensure the full social, economic and political participation of all citizens without exception, with a particular attention to the vulnerabilities and obstacles faced by people with impairments and disabilities, are the broad principles and guidelines of the government policy" (p. 33).

The hybridization of this political discourse with a discourse from the order of science is realized in several occasions. For example, as already described, more than once scientific sources are alluded to in order to legitimize and further persuade the audience that the Plan seeks to bring about imperative changes. Furthermore, the PAIPDI is rich in tables presenting statistical data, collected either through the Portuguese Census, various national surveys, or from public departments involved in the provision of services for the disabled population. These data are used in the text to develop a description (and critique) of the current situation of people with disabilities in Portugal, as well as to support arguments in favour of new programmes and policies. Finally, the Plan dedicates a few pages to explain the complexities of the ICF model, offering a detailed account of its components and their interrelationships. As Fairclough (1995) notes, the innovative mix of different orders of discourse has the potential to create a new discourse. Throughout the PAIPDI, the systematic articulation of the two genres—the scientific genre and the legal and rights-based one—indicates that a new political discourse around disability issues is emerging in Portugal, one that no longer emanates from (or allows) a charity approach, but rather is grounded in "scientific" knowledge and methods, as well as in human rights principles. The added outcome is thus a new political discourse (and potentially new policy approach too) that, in contrast with the previous one, carries the aura of "truth" and "social justice."

I want to suggest that the "colonization" of the disability policy discourse by science and human rights discourses is indicative of what Fairclough has termed the "technologization" of discourse. As Fairclough (1995) explains, "[t]echnologization of discourse is a process of intervention in the sphere of discourse practices with the objective of establishing a new hegemony in the order of discourse" (p. 104). Fairclough uses the concept, for example, when examining an extract from a British university prospectus to analyse changes in the academic discourse as it incorporates elements from the corporate world, notably discursive techniques from advertisement. In the case of the PAIPDI, I would argue, there is an explicit intent in the process of technologization of the disability policy discourse. In fact, through the Plan and the policies and programmes that ensue, the government is actively seeking to achieve a transformation of the ways in which issues of disability are talked about and approached as a policy problem in Portugal. In this sense, hybridization can be said to be used here as a strategy for political domination. The ample space dedicated in the Plan to explain the ICF model, viewed as a fundamental tool to achieve the desired transformation, is an obvious example. Clearly, a charity discourse is no longer allowed to discuss disability issues in Portugal, but it remains to be seen how far, wide, and deep this change has gone.

The hybrid format of the PAIPDI, in turn, is producing its own problems, which are manifested in the ambivalences and contradictions that permeate this Plan. In fact, the PAIPDI represents disability as a human rights issue, but simultaneously as something that can be "objectively" measured and categorized through the application of the ICF. There is, however, an irrevocable distinction between these two visions. The rights approach to disability implies that persons with disabilities are viewed as legal subjects, deemed able to make decisions on their lives, and entitled to claim their rights from the state. It also implies a holistic approach to human beings and their rights, in all policy and actions developed. Yet, in practice, the endorsement of the ICF as the main device for policy planning and implementation in Portugal, as well as for the provision of services and benefits, means that the state keeps its discretionary power to decide who will get which rights, and when. This ambivalence is symptomatic of the processes of continuity and change that are taking placing in the wider socio-cultural context, and which this document both reflects and helps to constitute. Let me now turn to the examination of these relationships, and the implications they may have in the lives of people with disabilities, particularly those who are women.

Disability Discourse in Context: Between Continuity and Change

To fully understand the consequences and implications of the new disability policy approach, we need to map out the wider social and cultural relations and structures that constitute the social matrix in which this Plan has emerged. First, it is important to note that the emphasis on change, which this Plan so clearly embodies, had been the trademark of the socialist government since its inception in March 2005. Before that government, in the period between 2002-2005, a centre-right coalition had ruled the country and, clearly inspired by the European neo-liberal approach, undertook intense deregulation, de-centralization, and privatization. The measures introduced, which began undermining the social security and the national health systems, did not prevent an even greater fiscal deficit or an increased national debt, and plunged the nation into a widespread social and economic crisis. When the socialists, under the leadership of José Sócrates, won an absolute majority in 2005, they were elected on a platform that promised to restore "national confidence" while offering "more and better social policies," particularly through a focus on "poverty prevention" and the promotion of "equal opportunities" (Presidência do Conselho de Ministros, 2005, p. 1). No doubt, the socialist government elected in 2005 continued to be under pressure to follow the regime of monetary and fiscal discipline imposed by the European integration process. Despite these constraints, Sócrates wanted to mark a distinction in the orientation of government politics, hence his search for a new language that better reflected the socialist commitment to a new generation of policies. The human rights discourse provided such a language, and the recurrent use of the word "change" in the Prime Minister's speeches and addresses to the nation suggested the idea that Portugal was indeed being transformed. In line with these "transformations," disability (and other social problems) came to be represented in the political discourse as a human rights issue.

Here, however, I want to move beyond such representations. More than taking note of a shift in the way disability as a social problem has come to be described, I want to examine how this new discourse conceals or reflects relations of power, and the implications of the new discourse on the lives of those with disabilities. Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999), following Foucault, hold that modern power is not "domination from outside" but rather "discipline" involving "the continuous action of techniques which are built into the very capillaries of social life, and which have the effect of normalizing modern life" (p. 90). Discourse, in this sense, the authors maintain, is both "a source" and the "effect" of "technologies of power" (p. 90). I argue that, in the context of the social and political transformations Portugal underwent over the last years, as described above, disability policy became a paradigmatic case of the ways in which technologies of power operate through and by discourse to discipline, contain, and normalize. Indeed, while the shift to a rights approach to disability seemingly conveyed that the status quo was being shaken up and people with disabilities were (finally) achieving rights to substantive equality, the endorsement of the ICF, legitimized within the also new "knowledge-based" approach to disability, in reality undermined this endeavour. In fact, the adoption of the ICF as the key tool for policy design and implementation has been the "technology of power" that continues to allow the government to control access to disability rights and benefits, by differentiating, on the basis of a system of "truth" (not charity), those who are from those who are not deemed "disabled." In this process, however, and despite the new discourse on rights, people with disabilities may likely remain disempowered. It is beyond the scope of this paper to fully discuss what a policy alternative would look like, but a genuine human rights approach would certainly require the full involvement of persons with disabilities in the definition of their needs and the identification of necessary supports. It would also imply a holistic approach to human life, starting with granting everyone a decent standard of living as a matter of right. None of this, however, is being considered in the ways the ICF is proposed to be put into practice in this Plan.

On the contrary, what is suggested with the implementation of the ICF is that supports and benefits will increasingly be made available only for those with "more significant levels of need," and therefore fewer will be problematized as "disabled." So far, the ICF has already been used to assess needs in relation to the education system and it has resulted in a drastic reduction of the number of students eligible for special education supports (Federação Nacional dos Professores, 2008). According to the PAIPDI, the ICF will soon be applied to determine eligibility to social security benefits, technical devices, accessible transportation, and so on. Whenever only a narrow group of people is classified "disabled" and entitled to receive special supports—while the large majority is deemed able to enjoy the resources available in the mainstream system—many more who are placed between these two extreme poles are likely to fall through the cracks, and will end up receiving less help than what they actually need. The implications are likely twofold: not only a larger proportion of individuals will be left out without supports despite their need, but also the few who will receive help will be further marked out and stigmatized. Given the continuing climate of fiscal austerity that the nation faces, this solution is presented in the Plan as "rational," since it suggests that at least in the short term, the government is using resources "more effectively" by allocating benefits to a thinner proportion of the population—the deserving disabled. What becomes evident too is that economic (cost-cutting) rather than social (inclusion- and rights-oriented) goals have driven this policy. In the long run, however, the outcome of such policies may prove disastrous, not just for those who society is already failing today, but for the ones who precisely because of the support they are receiving risk being even more marginalized. In both cases, and despite the progressive adoption of rights rhetoric, it is unlikely that under current policies in Portugal disability will cease to constitute the grounds for a range of social and economic inequalities, notably those that emerge at the intersection of disability and gender. In fact, the mixing of human rights with science and knowledge-based discourse on disability embodied in the Plan is insufficient to bring about a holistic perspective in policy formulation. The PAIPDI continues to be structured around traditional and discrete domains of intervention such as education, qualification and employment, culture, leisure and sports, etc. In such a traditional model, issues of gender (in)equality, which cross-cut all these areas, remain invisible.

Even where each domain is discussed, there is no recognition of the disadvantages that girls and women with disabilities have faced, and therefore, no special measures to redress them are proposed. For instance, when it is claimed that "education and vocational training … are fundamental vectors in the process of habilitation, rehabilitation and participation of children and youth with disabilities" (p. 61), there is no further discussion about the unequal rates of access to education between female and male youngsters with disabilities. Hence, no initiatives are envisioned to rectify such discrepancies. Similarly, when the Plan advances employment measures, it targets the ensemble of people with disabilities, neglecting to attend to the gender-related factors that increase exclusion from the labour market for women with disabilities. As noted, these inequities are well documented in the literature (Sousa et al., 2007a, 2007b, 2007c; Pereira et al., 2010). The continuing invisibility of a gender perspective in the PAIPDI is thus particularly disadvantageous for women with disabilities, as it perpetuates, rather than challenges, the inequality and multiple discrimination they have traditionally experienced.

Concluding Remarks

Despite claims to the contrary, it is unlikely that the PAIPDI will profoundly change power relations in Portuguese society, at least as they are structured around disability and gender. As demonstrated above, although presented under a somehow different package in which a new discourse on rights is highlighted, there is much continuity in how the problem of disability is managed in Portuguese society. At a fundamental level, through the endorsement of the ICF, it is still the state and the medical profession which hold the power to determine who is and is not disabled, and therefore who is, and is not, entitled to services, supports and benefits. Furthermore, categorizations of individuals as disabled and non-disabled are still done on the basis of a classification (hereafter the ICF), structured around a normative conception of human functioning, which displaces (as less than human), and therefore disempowers, those who diverge from that norm.

Critical legal studies scholars have long signalled that the abstract nature of human rights make rights discourses open for manipulation by elites interested in maintaining the status quo, including at the state level (Pieterse, 2007). The contradictions pointed out in the PAIPDI seem indeed to suggest limitations of rights rhetoric in achieving profound social and political transformation.

There is, however, an important change that this Plan signals and whose potential implications have yet to be fully explored. The adoption of the rights discourse on disability, in Portugal as elsewhere, reflects the increased hegemony of the disability movement not just nationally but also internationally. Over the last three decades, the global disability community has indeed been able to shift the disability discourse from a welfare to a rights issue (Barton, 1993), a process which has culminated in the recent adoption of the UN Disability Convention. By framing disability as a human rights issue for the first time in Portuguese political discourse, the PAIPDI opens up for disabled people and their allies new and exciting possibilities for challenging and reshaping, not just law and policy, but the very power relations that in the past have sustained their domination. In this sense, there is a real creative and transformative power in this policy document, one perhaps not even completely foreseen by its authors. Its potential, however, will greatly depend on the ability of the disability movement to build on this momentum and use human rights as a tool to push for disability and gender justice in social, and not just discursive, practices.

Works Cited

  • Bacchi, C.L. (1999). Women, policy and politics: The construction of policy problems. London: Sage.
  • Barton, L. (1993). The struggle for citizenship: The case of disabled people. Disability, Handicap & Society, 8(3), 235-248.
  • Chouliaraki, L., & Fairclough, N. (1999). Discourse in late modernity. Rethinking critical discourse analysis. Edinburgh: University Press.
  • Chouliaraki, L., & Fairclough, N. (2004). The critical analysis of discourse. In W. Carroll (Ed.), Critical strategies for social research (pp. 262-271). Toronto: Canadian Scholar's Press.
  • Cohu, S., Lequet-Slama, D., & Velche, D. (2005). Les politiques en faveur des personnes handicapées en cinq pays européens: Grandes tendances. Revue Française des Affaires Sociales, 2, 11-33.
  • Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London: Longman.
  • Federação Nacional dos Professores. (2008, June 6). Utilização da CIF para a elegibilidade de NEE ser á factor de discriminação, pondo em causa a escola inclusiva. Conferência de Imprensa, Lisboa.
  • Gabinete da Secretária de Estado Adjunta e da Reabilitação and Secretariado Nacional para a Reabilitação e Integração das Pessoas com Deficiência. (2006). 1°. Plano Nacional para a integração das pessoas com deficiências e incapacidades, 2006-09. Lisboa: Instituto do Emprego e da Formação Profissional.
  • Hammerlsy, M. (2003). Conversation analysis and discourse analysis: Methods or paradigms? Discourse and Society, 14(6), 751-781.
  • Pereira, P.B., Fernandes, P.A., Fulgêncio, C., Abrantes, C., Lopo, T., Fernandes, J., & Dias, A. (2010). Estudo sobre o impacto da discriminação com base na deficiência nas mulheres. Lisboa: INR, I.P.
  • Pieterse, M. (2007). Eating socioeconomic rights: The usefulness of rights talk in alleviating social hardship revisited. Human Rights Quarterly, 29, 796-822.
  • Presidência do Conselho de Ministros. (2005). Programa do XVII Governo Constitucional. Retrieved from http://www.portugal.gov.pt/NR/rdonlyres/631A5B3F-5470-4AD7-AE0F-D8324A3AF401/0/ProgramaGovernoXVII.pdf
  • Sousa, J., Casanova, J.L., Pedroso, P., Mota, A., Gomes, A.T., Seiceria, F., Fabela, S., & Alves, T. (2007a). Elementos de caracterização das pessoas com deficiências e incapacidades em Portugal. Vila Nova de Gaia: CRPG, Centro de Reabilitação de Gaia.
  • Sousa, J., Casanova, J.L., Pedroso, P., Mota, A., Gomes, A.T., Seiceria, F., Fabela, S., & Alves, T. (2007b). Mais qualidade de vida para as pessoas com deficiências e incapacidades: Uma estratégia para Portugal. Vila Nova de Gaia: CRPG, Centro de Reabilitação de Gaia.
  • Sousa, J., Casanova, J.L., Pedroso, P., Mota, A., Gomes, A.T., Seiceria, F., Fabela, S., & Alves, T. (2007c). O sistema de reabilitação e as trajectórias de vida das pessoas com deficiências e incapacidades em Portugal. Vila Nova de Gaia: CRPG, Centro de Reabilitação de Gaia.
  • Touraine, A. (1978). La voix et le regard. Paris: Seuil.

Endnotes

  1. According to a recent study (Sousa et al. 2007a), almost 60% of adults with disabilities in Portugal (aged 18- 70 years old) have no more than 4 years of formal education.


    Return to Text
Return to Top of Page


Copyright (c) 2011 Paula Campos Pinto



Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact the web manager, Maureen Walsh. Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

ISSN: 2159-8371