The policymaking process has proven itself to be a one-way road, where the privileged have full access to the public domain and the marginalized struggle for self-representation. Although Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes full civil and human rights for this marginalized group, people with disabilities still face barriers in accessing and influencing the political sphere. And while direct involvement is necessary for people with disabilities to become “agents of social change,” it has been the case all too often that groups work on behalf of the disabled to lobby for disability policies. In order to combat the restrictive nature of the policymaking process, a research team at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has identified that advocacy and technology are two strategies used by the disabled community to increase participation in the public domain and further the rights of this group. With this information, Sarah Parker Harris, Randall Owen, Cindy DeRuiter, Emily Langley, Robin Jones and Patricia Politano of the Department of Disability and Human Development at UIC seek to “develop the civic knowledge and practices of people with disabilities” in order to better equip them with the tools to overcome political barriers and affect change.
In their report “Civic Engagement and Disability: using advocacy and technology to advance the political participation of people with disabilities,” the research team explores the means by which advocacy and technology can empower people with disabilities to more effectively communicate their views regarding policy in order to incur a government response. Working with disability organizations in Chicago, the team collected data through community resource assessments, training sessions and evaluations, and focus groups and interviews. The results show that the organizations enhance civic awareness and responsibility, build advocacy knowledge, and develop technology skills to increase political participation of disabled people. Yet with further training sessions followed up by evaluations, participants felt they better understood the policy process and the ways in which they could impact it through advocacy and technology. Education thus proved effective in reducing feelings of disempowerment by increasing policy awareness and encouraging civic engagement among people with disabilities. The focus sessions and interviews with participants and staff helped identify barriers to civic engagement, including a lack of government accessibility and outreach to the disabled community, although successful advocacy strategies were named to overcome these obstacles. Technology was acknowledged as a useful resource, however not all people with disabilities have access to it and the skills to use it. It is only by identifying effective tools and strategies to increase civic engagement among people with disabilities and advancing their knowledge and capacity to utilize such resources that the rights of this marginalized community can be advanced and protected.
View Executive Summary