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Designing Disability Services in South Asia: Understanding the Role that Disability Organizations Play in Transforming a Rights-based Approach to Disability

Baldwin, Jennifer L. (2006) Designing Disability Services in South Asia: Understanding the Role that Disability Organizations Play in Transforming a Rights-based Approach to Disability. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Since the advent of the Disability Rights Movement in the 1960's and 1970's, practitioners and scholars have sought ways of conceptualizing disability and understanding the strategies employed in its management. The push for a rights-based approach to disability first begun in North America and Europe has become globalized, influencing the discourse, strategies, and day-to-day activities of international policy-making bodies, non-governmental organizations working on disability, and individuals with disabilities worldwide. Scholarship within disability studies has fixed attention on a small range of models for explaining the meanings and experience of disability. However, the adequacy of these models in describing the relationship between international institutions, disability organizations, and individuals with disabilities has not been examined. Similarly, scholars have not examined the influence these different theoretical models have on the everyday work of organizations working with individuals with disabilities. This paper explores the way in which two organizations in South Asia have framed and defined organizational goals and a "rights based" approach to disability. It employs ethnographic data from preliminary field projects in Kathmandu, Nepal and Delhi, India to examine the underlying theoretical models of disability that each organization operationalizes through its programming. Analysis of each organization's values, programming, and disability discourse suggests that organizations are differently defining disability rights, leading to heterogeneity in the types of services available to people with disabilities. I suggest that this heterogeneity in available services across organizations, as well as within a single organization is the product of organizations employing different theoretical understandings of the meaning of disability. However, programming opportunities available to an individual with a disability not only stem from different theoretical models of disability, but also forge new hybrid models of disability that incorporate multiple theoretical constructs in order to address the challenges facing individuals with disability. This suggests that disability organizations are actively engaged in defining and transforming disability policy and discourse at the local level and beyond. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications these findings have on how we understand and study disability, as well as design and implement services for individuals with disabilities.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Baldwin, Jennifer
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDeWalt, Kathleen Mkmdewalt@pitt.eduKMDEWALT
Committee Member McAllister, Carol Lallister@pitt.eduALLISTER
Committee MemberScaglion, Richardscaglion@pitt.eduSCAGLION
Date: 28 September 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 August 2006
Approval Date: 28 September 2006
Submission Date: 17 August 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Disability policy; Disability Rights; India; Medical Model of Disability; Nepal; People with Disabilities; Public Health; Social Model of Disability; Theory of Change
Other ID:, etd-08172006-190651
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:49


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