Biographical experiences of persons with disabilities in European educational systems

Year: 2012

Author: Biewer, Gottfried

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: The paper is based on the intermediate results of the collaborative European research project Quali-TYDES (duration: 2010-2014, project website: funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF). Researchers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Spain investigate and explain how developments in educational systems have impacted on the lives of young disabled people.

Methods: The sample consists of 20 young persons from each country (n=80), all born in the 1980s. The sample for comparison is diverse and consists of persons with sensory, physical and intellectual disabilities, of different genders, persons with and without migration background and differing social resources. The collaborative work combines life stories with biographical research and policy analysis.

For comparison purposes, the research uses four key concepts in reading life stories:

  • Trajectories - the direction in which life is moving or expected to move;
  • Pathways - the actual routes that people follow through the events and decisions of their lives;
  • Turning points - the moments when life pathways take a new turn;
  • Resources and capital - the support that people call upon to make changes in their lives.

Results: The ongoing research provides real-life case studies of the barriers and opportunities created by national/local policy frameworks. Rich qualitative data, linked to critical policy analysis, raise the voices and representations of young disabled people who are often excluded from public policy discourse. As the project started in 2010 the author will present some intermediate results, with a focus on experiences in the educational sector of the 4 countries.

Conclusions: The young adults' life stories demonstrate the change from segregation to inclusion in educational systems of different European countries. But they also show sustained' weaknesses in educational service provision. Due to a poor implementation of policies on inclusion, some participants had no opportunity to attend mainstream schools, experiencing segregated schooling with a strong focus on therapeutic aspects and poor academic learning, limiting their post-school opportunities and often leading to excluded trajectories. Attending mainstream schools enabled participants to achieve a further academic educational pathway, but often left them with 'biographical scars' due to marginalizations in the classroom.