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Empowerment and disability - An organizational analysis in Portugal

Pedro M. Teixeira, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences - University of Porto
Co-author(s): Isabel Menezes


Empowerment has been conceptualized as the capacity that individuals, organizations and communities have to take control over events that occur in their lives (Zimmerman, 1995). The goal of empowering individuals, organizations and communities has been held in several community based interventions in different contexts (e.g. health, education, work) with positive associations between higher levels of individual empowerment and higher levels of: motivation, performance, productivity, social cohesion, resilience towards stigmatization, coping with disabilities, quality of life and community participation. Empowerment has also been associated with lower re-hospitalization rates and negative stress effects. The focus on empowerment goals has also been emerging in portuguese disability policy documents and by the influence of the European Union recommendations. However, little is know on how organizations in the community (e.g. advocacy groups, service providers, rehabilitation centres,...) have integrated empowerment values and practices. An important conceptual distinction has been made between empowering and empowered organizations (Zimmerman, 2004). Empowering organizations are those that produce psychological empowerment for individual members as part of their organizational process, while empowered organizations are described as those that influence the larger system of which they are a part. Often disability service providers claim to develop strategies and follow intervention models aiming for higher levels of quality of life and independent living in line with an empowerment perspective. However, organizations can fail to implement the empowering processes that might account for empowered results in individuals and families. The result can even be disempowerment and the reinforcement of dependency and social de-valorisation. Presentation will include comparative data from organizational analysis of Portuguese disability service providers and advocacy groups on the development of individual empowerment and active citizenship promotion. The implications of the findings will be discussed in terms of organizational practice and policy.

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