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The time of our lives: understanding disability through life history (poster presentation)

Sonali Shah, University of Leeds
Co-presenter(s): Prof Mark Priestley


Disabled people are not a homogenous group, as is stressed in disability studies. Their lives are influenced, and indeed influence, the times in which they live and the relationships that develop, both prior to and during those times. In this presentation, based on a 3 year project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we examine how disabled people's individual biographies can be used as a lens to understand the social changes that have taken place, at macro level, in relation to disabled people's lives, from the Second World War to the 21st Century. These could include areas of policy, legislation, practice and provision. For instance through micro level data it is possible to capture how large-scale structural and institutional changes impact on disabled people's lives, and how disabled people perceive and respond to them. However biographies can also illustrate the extent to which individuals perceive their choices and opportunities in life as being the consequence of micro, meso and macro level factors. In other words, how far are the opportunities available to disabled people, over different generations, attributable to globalisation, changes in the labour market and the technological revolution (macro); institutional and policy developments (meso); or their own personality and the street level action of key people in their individual lives (micro). Using a few illustrative quotes, this paper, therefore, explores how disabled people's biographical accounts can be used to assess the interaction between structure and agency in affecting changes in the life course of individual disabled people, and also the changes that have taken place between different generations of disabled people. The social change introduced by one generation of disabled people may affect the lifestyles of the next generation, by, for instance, avoiding the reinvention of disabling barriers and exclusionary practices.

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