By Hisayo Katsui
Nordic Network on Disability Research (NNDR) organised its bi-annual conference at Nyborg, Denmark, between 2-4.4.2009. It was attended by more than 200 participants from more than 20 different countries. 14 were from Finland. Majority are from Denmark and Norway as has been the case in previous conferences. This trend is also reflected in the published articles in Scandinavian Journal on Disability Research and Disability and Society. Finnish articles are extremely limited in these two journals. Hopefully, there will be more research on disability in Finnish academia and also fundings supporting this important theme!
Throughout the conference, to my surprise, human rights was an undermined concept, even though the UN Convention just entered into force. Also disability in development was only dealt with in the session where I presented my paper ("Human Rights-Based Approach to Disability in Uganda: the Case Study on the General Assemblies of DPOs and the Rights to Self-Determination.") Only two papers in the session elaborated this theme. The session was given the name, "NGO Research" and so the majority of the audience were those from DPOs, which I was very happy about (European Disability Forum, for instance, sent a group of DPO representatives to this Conference). Naturally, the discussion was very interesting and based deeply on practices. They raised the similar question to us, researchers, "How does this research benefit us, DPOs and our disability movement? Isn't it just filling your knowledge gap and serve your interests?" I think it is important to prepare good answers to these questions, so long as we are disability researchers. I would like to thank all the inputs to my presentation!
One session was devoted for the question, "Why there are so few researchers with disabilities in Nordic countries (compared with UK and US)?" It was explained that US disability study started with the Independent Living movement of students with physical impairments, while UK with Social Model of persons with physical impairments. On the contrary, the Nordic disability movement was based on the key concept of Normalisation of non-disabled people concerning people with learning difficulties/intellectual disabilities. Also, it was analysed that the academic community as the environmental structure is very discriminatory for students with disabilities, while the population is so limited that the number of researchers with disabilities are also not many. When thinking of the academic environment here in Finland, I can understand these very well. Disability activism and research are both very energy consuming, and difficult to combine without reasonably accommodated environment. This is a valid argument in Finland, too.
<-- Tom Shakespeare in his wheelchair. The two of the keynote speakers were by Jan Walmsley and Tom Shakespeare, two British scholars, who take a distance from the traditional Social Model school. Both mentioned that Disability Study should go beyond "Nothing about us without us" slogan of the disability movement: researchers should have a say. This is very different from the Social Model that rather controls and uses researchers for their purposes. I am still considering what is the right position of myself as a researcher in my own research.
<-- TV Glad presentation by the staffs with learning difficulties.
The conference was very well-organised. I also liked the non-academic programmes including the presentation of TV Glad, which is the TV station managed by Danish people with learning difficulties/intellectual disabilities. They have been the role model of actively working people with learning difficulties for the last 10 years. It was great! The conference was very intensive and hectic, as many of the academic conferences are, but very interesting and useful space for exchanging ideas with peers and also with disability activists. Thank you for the organisers of the conference!!