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The Effect of Social Media on the Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Social Movements

0 December 11 2017, 16:31 in Psychology Essays

The Effect of Social Media on the Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Social Movements

Persons with disabilities (PWD) experience various types of discrimination which affect their functional effectiveness in their everyday lives. The term "person with disability” itself is already discriminatory, suggesting that PWDs are physically incapable of performing tasks and achieving aspirations that persons without disability are capable of. The difference in functional effectiveness also has implication on the perceived role in the society. PWDs view their selves as unproductive members of the society and ill-contemplated legislations that aim to provide services while highlighting the functional difference of PWDs further reinforce this negative perception.

In response to disability-based discrimination, PWD movements have emerged in various countries. However, it was observed that such movements were initiated not by PWDs themselves. The level of participation is likewise wanting. The findings of Schur and Adya (2013) that the participation of PWDs in social movements is low contradict the existing theories of social movement. Two of these theories are the relative deprivation theory (RDT) and social identification theory (SIT). The former states that individuals in a collective will participate in social movement to seek for redress for the relative deprivation experienced by the group. The latter, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of group identification. The members of a particular group evaluate their present political, social and economic position in relation to those outside the group. If the status quo is unfavourable to the group in comparison to other group, members will attempt to change the prevailing situation through various means such as contacting officials, vote of no confidence, policy-lobbying or participation in social movement. It is clear that PWDs experience deprivation in comparison with the other marginalized groups or with those who do not have physical disability thus, the assumptions of RDT should hold. In the same way, the assumptions of SIT are also present since the prevailing condition of the members of the group is clearly disadvantaged when compared to persons without disability.

The low level of participation of PWDs in social movements can be explained by the concept of biographical availability. Biographical availability is defined by McAdam (9) as cited in Xiao and McRoberts (2014) as "the absence of personal constraints that may increase the costs and risks of movement participation.” Although the concept of biographical availability has not yet been used in PWD studies[1], numerous studies have identified the causes of low public participation of PWDs that are similar to the factors embraced in the definition of biographical availability. As for the personal constraints, Adams (56) maintained that PWDs are reluctant to participate in events of social and political significance because physical limitations. Another constraint that can be argued as limiting the participation of PWDs is the physical demand of political activities, most especially social movements. While various activities can be undertaken under a specific social movement, protest action has been the single-most important activity. The nature of protest action and the requisites are considered as challenges for PWDs (McBorough 1011). As for the risk, it clear that the greatest preoccupations are the possibility of getting hurt during participation and the social stigma that can be hurled against them by joining the movement.

The low level of participation of PWDs has a number of political consequences. First, it undermines the democratic principle of popular sovereignty. Second, the low level of participation of PWDs can cast doubts on the legitimacy of disability movements since most of the organizers and sympathizers are persons without disability. Third, it has significant ramification in the formulation of policies to the needs of the sector. The PWDs are more knowledgeable of their condition, needs and necessary changes to the policy environment to improve their prevailing condition. Attempts have already been made to identify strategies to increase participation such as greater education and community-based approach. However, while these efforts may help politicize the sector so that they will understand that they are experiencing relative deprivation and that their group is disadvantaged compared with other sectors of the society, there remains the question of biographical availability. The proposed study is the first to identify an answer on increasing the biographical availability of PWDs. This strategy is the use of social media. While the potency of social media in social movements has already received significant attention from the academe, its use in disability movements has not yet been explored. The proposed study will fill this gap in the literature by determining whether the use of social media increases the biographical availability of PWDs and in the process, increasing their participation in social movements.



[1] The concept has been applied only in gender and environmental studies. Xiao and MCRoberts (255) found that there are numerous considerations that determine the biographical availability of women to develop pro-environmental tendencies.

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