2000 Conference Proceedings

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Karin Renblad
Doctoral student
Stockholms Insitute of Education
Disability and Handicap Research
P.O. Box 47 308
S-Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: + 46 8 737 96 26
FAX: + 46 8 737 96 30

For many people, the ability to control their own activities, make their own decisions and choice their own social network is a matter of course. Persons with functional disabilities, however, have in the past had little opportunity to influence or empower their daily lives. One group which has had the least opportunity is people with mental retardation. The aim with this paper is to highlight the potential of advanced technologies for persons with mental retardation.

Sweden has made great steps forward in developing its industry and welfare since World War II, especially during the 1950s and 60s. Using a primarily successful policy of distributing the wealth between different groups, welfare has been equalised. As international trade and competition have developed, the country’s social structures and domestic situation have been affected. Internationalisation has weakened the state’s ability to control social development. This has led to changes in economic and material conditions, and it has also caused a shift in values (SOU 1992:52). Society has become more individualistic, emphasising personal self-fulfilment (SOU 1990:19). This individualistic thinking can threaten the social security of people who for different reasons are reliant on the welfare system’s collective protection. Peoplewith functional impairments are such a group in the Swedish society. In order to study the situations of these groups, Bengt Lindqvist (1988), the cabinet minister at that time, was assigned by the government to form a committee to investigate questions of the social services’ and habilitation/rehabilitation’s efforts for people with multiple functional impairments. In its final report, "A society for all" (SOU 1992:52), the committee stated that there were welfare gaps between people who had functional impairments, and those who did not. There were also gaps between different groups of people with functional impairments, between different parts of the country, and between different areas of efforts. It can be concluded from this that people with functional impairments are not treated equally in different municipalities, and that they have little opportunity to influence this. The committee pointed out that one of the main themes of its work was to find different ways to reinforce self-determination and influence. They also state that availability, participation, a comprehensive view, and continuity should be the guiding principles in different types of reform efforts for a society for all. This means, realistically, that people with functional impairments must have increased opportunities for participation and influence in other word empowerment.


Power means the ability of a person or of different social groups to control or dominate others, their activities, or their behaviour. Most societies have different systems of power relationships which are based on legal, economic, political, or ideological conditions (Bra Böckers Lexikon, 1987). Empowerment is another form of power, acquired power; it means both having control over and being able to influence one’s own situation (Björk-Åkesson, 1997; Neath & Schriner, 1998). It involves equal social power, and the fact that one has personal power.

This personal power makes it possible for people to work together and wield their power to change social structures based on power over others (Neath & Schriner, 1998). Empowerment is a concept which is associated with the guiding principles of availability, participation, a comprehensive view, and continuity, as named in the "A society for all" investigation (SOU, 1992:52). Foucault, a French philosopher and sociologist, says that power consists of relationships, of relative strengths between different people. The power relationship can describe a relationship between people, or it can concern individual characteristics, e.g. degree of verbal capability, technical know-how, or physical strength. It can also mean the relationships between groups in society, and here it refers to different structural phenomena, e.g. mutual belonging or not belonging in different social groups, class, gender, ethnicity, etc. (Foucault, 1982; Hörnqvist, 1996).

Persons with intellectual disabilities are persons in need of special support for their daily living. They mostly have a lower degree of verbal capability, technical know-how and they need support to have access to service in the community and to be able to participate in social activities at "normal" living conditions. They even have had a little opportunity to influence their activities and social network.

In modern society, communication and information technology play an important role in the contact with the environment and in keeping up our social network. Most of us take this new technology for granted. For people with functional impairments for example people with mental retardation it is necessary to adopt the technology to suit their needs.Videotelephony has been expected to play an imported role for more independent living for persons with special needs. Renblad (1998,1999), Brodin and Renblad, (1999) conclude that Advanced technology has a potential for persons with mental retardation to broaden and outreach their social network. A future question is can new technologies empower people with mental retardation and give them opportunities to influence their daily life.

Acknowledgment: This paper is support by the Swedish Transport & Communications Research Board.

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SOU 1992:52 Ett samhälle för alla [A society for all].

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