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Disability Rights, Employment and Welfare: People with Disabilities in Liberal Welfare States

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posted on 12.04.2012, 00:00 authored by Randall J. Owen
This dissertation explores the influence of neoliberalism on national welfare reform and employment policies for people with disabilities and the human rights approach to disability that has developed over the past few decades. These approaches often use the same rhetoric (e.g. independence and responsibility), but with different meanings. While human rights is concerned with equality, equality of opportunity and a decent standard of living, neoliberalism encourages policy to emphasize labor market participation so that individual needs are decommodified and cannot be met without participating in the market. This dissertation conducted case studies of three liberal welfare states - Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – because they have each adopted welfare to work policies that have been influenced by neoliberalism and they each have strong histories regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a framework, the case studies in each country consists of policy analysis and empirical data obtained from 57 people with disabilities who participated in focus groups in the countries. The case studies focused on the extent to which national policy was consistent with human rights and identified best practices and areas for improvement in each country. Although policies in each country have some key differences, the dissertation found that they also had important similarities, notably that (i) welfare to work represents a choice between employment and poverty for people with disabilities; (ii) the implementation of welfare to work presents challenges to the human rights of people with disabilities; and (iii) welfare to work is focused on supply-side policies without consideration of demand-side factors that promote equality of opportunity. It is suggested that, in order for welfare to work to be more effective and more consistent with human rights for people with disabilities, additional initiatives and/or information about promoting accommodations for and promoting the skills and capabilities of people with disabilities could supplement national antidiscrimination legislation and create a policy environment that equalizes opportunities for people with disabilities. Those initiatives could integrate better with other policies. In short, a more widespread approach might be more effective.



Parker Harris, SarahFujiura, Glenn


Disability and Human Development

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Committee Member

Fisher, Karen Heller, Tamar Jones, Robin Priestley, Mark

Publisher Statement

Dissertation 2011

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