Democratic Justice for Brazilians with Impairments

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Virginia Tech


For decades, Brazilians with impairments have not been able to enjoy full citizenship rights because of the existing oppressive structures in their society. This study examines comprehensions of justice for citizens with impairments in Brazil and what the implications of those perspectives may be for policy arguments and for social change. The principal sources of these justice-related outlooks are three key stakeholder groups: policymakers, disability nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and people with impairments.

The analysis is organized as follows. First, I provide an overview of the study, its aims and significance and research questions. Second, I discuss the theoretical foundations of the inquiry, focusing on debate among democratic theorists on the meaning of citizenship and social theorists on the significance and goals of social justice, as well as the key debates among disability theorists on the purport of disability, oppression, emancipation and social inclusion. Next, I describe the research design and methods employed in this effort, explaining the rationale behind my choice of a qualitative approach and offering details concerning the study's data collection, analysis and interpretation. Fourth, I summarize the issues and tensions implicit in Brazil's practices and institutions as these relate to the nation's disabled citizens. Fifth, I discuss the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which has helped an already growing social movement in Brazil formalize and legitimate its aims and place disability justice on the national agenda. Sixth, I explore the major conceptions of justice expressed by disability NGOs and analyze what these views suggested for efforts to secure full citizenship for the disabled in Brazil. Next, I explore the conceptions of impairment, disability and justice as imagined and lived by Brazilians with impairments. Specific ideas and conceptions of disability informed the understandings of justice of the individuals with impairments whom I interviewed. Finally, I provide an interdisciplinary interpretation of the research findings, in which I create a dialogue among different perspectives in order to outline a new understanding of justice for people with impairments and the social change needed to reach that aspiration. After discussing the insights of different stakeholders on justice, I share my recommendations for further research.



social justice, disability, impairment, democracy, social policy, Brazil