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Citizenship - Disabled People's Perceptions and Definitions

Staffan Sanden, Halmstad University, Sweden and The Swedish Institute for Disability Research


Despite that sociologists started to take an interest in the concept of citizenship from the second half of the 20th century there is hardly any empirical research to substantiate how the common man perceives and defines the concept. Even less is known on the disabled person's perception of the concept.

A study has been conducted to explore how citizenship is perceived and defined by disabled people in Great Britain and Sweden. The study has been focussing on the perception of rights and obligations, and if and how rights and obligations have been accessible.

The study was carried out as a qualitative study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with disabled people defined as activists in a disability context (in Great Britain 19 informants, in Sweden 21 informants).

The study was carried out in cooperation with the Wigforss Institute, Halmstad University, Sweden, and the Center for Disability Research, University of Leeds, Great Britain.

The main conclusion of the study was that the interviewees had a good knowledge on the concept of citizenship, on rights and responsibilities, but that there were differences to be seen how interviewees from Great Britain and Sweden did describe and express this. A strong sense of wanting to fulfill the responsibilities that are inherent in being a member of society, but that, through the lack of inclusion, institutional discrimination, and the rights that they have been denied, they face difficulties in fulfilling these responsibilities, was to be seen irrespective of the country of origin.

As a comparison to the above study on how activists perceived the concept of citizenship, a study has been started with the focus on how the 'common' disabled person in Sweden looks upon the concept of citizenship, and his or hers lived experiences of being a citizen, of inclusion or exclusion in society. The study consists of three parts, (a) an ongoing survey to 1200 members of eight disability organizations, (b) interviews in 2009 with aprox 20 disabled people, and (c) a literature study on what language and terminology that has been used by disability organizations in arguments for change in legislation pertaining to disabled people.

A preliminary report on the survey is expected to be ready by the end of August 2008.

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