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Disability policy in Australia: a triumph of the scriptio inferior on impotence and neediness?

A decent society is one whose institutions do not humiliate people. (Margalit 1996: 1)


Disability policy is currently at the forefront of Australian debates on social inclusion, and the site of considerable policy action. This is evident in two main policy initiatives: first, following nationwide consultations, the negotiation of the National Disability Strategy (2010-20) (NDS) by all Australian governments, aimed at an all-of-government, all-of-community focus on disability policy development, and based on an explicit goal of meeting the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) (UNCRPD); and second, the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013, marking a shift away from block funding of disability services to individualised funding for scheme participants. By full rollout in 2019, about 460,000 individuals are expected to be connected to the NDIS. Simply stated, the NDS sets a wider agenda focused around rights protection and social and economic inclusion, covering six key areas of reform: inclusive and accessible communities; rights protection, justice and legislation; economic security; personal and community support; learning and skills; and health and wellbeing. The NDIS provides mechanisms for meeting some of the aspirations contained in the NDS, specifically for more comprehensive and effective delivery of personal supports. Both initiatives are subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

The reforms follow two national consultations on the general subject of living with disability in Australia, which propose remedies to poor service provision and wider social exclusion. Both consultations occurred within an atmosphere of complaint about services and experiences of exclusion, tied to optimism, a desire for and commitment to change by all stakeholders, and a reforming national Labor Government.

This paper uses Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough 2003; 2010) to interrogate reports on these two consultation exercises: The Shut Out Report: the Experiences of People with Disabilities in Australia (SO) (2009), the report of national consultations conducted by the national People with Disability and Carers Council; and Disability Care and Support (DCS), the report of national consultations carried out by the Australian Productivity Commission during 2010 and 2011 (Australian Productivity Commission 2011). Both reports give a picture of the ways in which voices of stakeholders in debates on disability are captured in policy discussions. The paper critically examines the formulation of the 'problem' of disability within a historical framework and asks whether what appears to become a dominant policy focus on service funding and provision offers the full liberatory potential that is forecast in the National Disability Strategy with its roots in the UNCRPD.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) provides a framework for the examination of a social problem formulation and its proposed solutions by looking at language and the interactions between the various parties. Here I use CDA to examine whether the current era of policy reform has recapitulated a historically evident notion of neediness and dependency. Neediness relates to an overriding understanding of disability as an unfortunate, dependent state requiring structured, paid-for services prescribed on assessment of impairment and incapacity. This understanding may paradoxically contribute to the cultural and social aspects of social exclusion, viewed here as 'a complex and multi-dimensional process' (Levitas & Pantazis 2007: 9). Millar, in her work on defining social exclusion looks at the debates in the UK from the 1990s. Her summary (below) refines that multi-dimensionality further:

However, the various definitions have in common an understanding that social exclusion is not only about material poverty and lack of material resources, but also about the processes by which some individuals and groups become marginalised in society. They are excluded not only from the goods and standards of living available to the majority but also from their opportunities, choices and life chances (Millar 2007: 2).

Millar takes this further to stress the centrality of 'participation', as well as 'agency' (where responsibility for exclusion lies), and relationality (the disconnect from the rest of society experienced by those who are excluded) in understanding exclusion and inclusion (2007: 3). Exclusion and non-participation need to be seen within a context that encompasses not only the narrower NDIS perspective that thrusts a service response to the fore, but also in the context of the wider, rights-based NDS agenda.

This CDA is grounded in a 'palimpsest' of the history of disability welfare policy, which highlights the dominance of understandings of disablement as neediness and dependency while ignoring the broader rights agenda. Analysis of SO and DCS demonstrates what appears to be a dominant focus on needs for supports, determining eligibility on impairment status and the standardisation of support packages, while de-prioritising responses to other forms of exclusion or denial of rights. While the NDIS is clearly positioned as only part of the response to the social exclusion pictured within both documents, I ask whether its implementation overshadows a wider reform agenda focused on community inclusion and economic participation.

The CDA therefore questions whether an amplified discourse of neediness--and its correlate, dependency--displaces a wider, potentially more transformative discourse based on rights protection and building a more inclusive society. This issue is examined in light of the respect-recognition-redistribution debate deliberated by Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser (Honneth & Fraser 2003). The paper concludes that the predominance of narratives of need potentially contributes to a non-integrationist discourse that enhances social exclusion and entrenches over 150 years of policies of segregation.

Structurally, the next section of this paper offers a brief description of CDA. The following section considers the documents in scope, and the succeeding section delivers in turn each of five steps contained within CDA. The paper concludes with discussion of the CDA with reference to debates between Honneth and Fraser (2003) on respect, recognition and redistribution.

Method: Critical Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis, following Foucault, its widely recognised progenitor, starts with a focus on the ways that an issue is 'spoken of', ways that may appear contradictory--even dialectical--but can also layer, such that they appear to cohere around a significant set of ideas. Carabine (2001: 268) argues that a discourse produces a social/political understanding of a problem and may even produce the problem. CDA seeks to lay bare this productive aspect of discourse and is the focus in this investigation of the scriptio inferior (explained below) in contemporary Australian disability policy. While wider interactional analysis is beyond the scope of the present study, I am mindful of Fairclough's point that 'texts are written with particular readerships in mind, and are oriented to (and anticipate) particular sorts of receptions and responses, and are therefore interactive (Fairclough 2001: 240). Fairclough proposes a five-stage process (outlined in more detail below) as an analytical framework modelled on the work of critical theorist Bhasker (1987), who proposed a model of explanatory critique.

The critical component of CDA links with an emancipatory 'knowledge interest' (Habermas, cited in Fairclough 2001: 230). As Taylor explains in her CDA of educational policy documents:

... through an understanding of the language of policy, policy activists can help to keep social democratic discourses and language on policy agendas and ensure that they are not marginalised or silenced during implementation processes. Using CDA as a tool, they can find spaces for strategic discursive interventions, and subvert repressive policies by reading them 'against the grain.' (Taylor 2002: 16)

This 'against the grain' reading can challenge the consensus that appears to form at points of policy shift: in this case, to interrogate the problem formulation that has crystallised in the consultations that lead to policy focus on service system reform through the NDIS.

Fairclough identifies the first stage of the five-stage approach to analysis as a 'focus on a social problem that has a semiotic aspect' (2003: 209). This analysis begins with discussion of how disability has been discursively constructed since the nineteenth century. Foucault argues that genealogy reveals those parts of our shared lives that appear to be without history (1980: 139). Following Froggett, who talks about configurations of welfare without adopting a teleological approach (2002: 11), I employ the notion of 'policy palimpsest' (Simmons 1982, cited in Park & Radford 1999), at times described as 'path dependency'. From the sixth century BCE and throughout western Europe, parchment, a scarce resource, was used to publicise pronouncements and to record sacred writings. Palimpsest is used to describe the persistent inscriptions of earlier documents found deep within the parchment. These words were erased using oats and milk, ready for the next inscription. Subsequent investigations reveal that the earlier inscriptions remain discernible. This inscription is called the 'scriptio inferior. '

Stage Two in Fairclough's methodology identifies 'obstacles to the social problem being tackled' (Fairclough, 2001: 236), here described as barriers to liberatory change established by the scriptio inferior in both reports, which provide evidence of the obduracy of this discourse of need. Fairclough's notion of intractability corresponds with the palimpsest model of reading disability history by rendering visible the implicit discourse of need (Fairclough 2001: 237).

Fairclough's methodology then turns to Analysis at Stage Three, which considers 'whether the social order (network of practices) "needs" the problem' (2001: 236). The question here is asked: 'who needs to keep disability as persistent neediness?'. Here I seek evidence of wider social interests in preservation of the view of disability primarily as dependency and need. Since both texts under consideration seek to establish and preserve a disinterested consensus assumed in the later introduction of the NDIS, it is here that 'against the grain' reading is particularly revealing.

Stage Four identifies ways past possible obstacles: 'what are the unrealised possibilities for more liberatory change here?' (Fairclough, 2001: 236). Having argued that the consensus is not as overwhelming as it initially appears, I read the core texts dialectically, focusing particularly on the link with the National Disability Strategy (NDS 2010-20). This leads towards consideration of the wider debate about recognition and redistribution (Honneth & Fraser 2003)..

Finally, Stage Five of Fairclough's approach concerns critical reflection on the Stage 1-4 analysis. This informs the concluding section of the paper. Fairclough (2001: 239) states that: '... any academic analysis of a domain of social life such as government (and specifically welfare reform) needs to be seen as being located within a social practice networked in particular ways with other practices, including the practices which academics research'. In this section I take up his challenge to answer the question: as academics, 'when we identify and specify a problem, do we involve those whose problem it is?'

Fairclough's model of CDA has been extensively critiqued for the political assumptions inherent in his work, and perhaps most evident in his commitment to critical, emancipatory scholarship. Indeed, he is viewed as lacking the balance, or even objectivity, necessary for proper academic work. These arguments are overviewed and analysed by Poole (2010), who proposes that in the central and self-evident notion that 'texts carry ideology' (Poole 2010: 142), Fairclough is saying nothing of methodological significance at all. I address this accusation in Step 5 of the present study.

Drawing on the critique of Widdowson (2004), who identifies himself as ideologically aligned with Fairclough, Poole (2010: 142) questions the notion that texts reveal discourses. As a partial correction, the present study uses texts which are the result of national consultations, capturing a range of voices within one document, even when the document appears as a monologue, especially in its policy formulations.

Calhoun argues that in its 'reliance on texts, and textual metaphors, it (CDA) constructs culture as a system of objects.' (Calhoun 1996: 319). This has particular relevance for any study that attempts to shine a light on movement messages. We are reminded of Melucci's view that we cannot lose focus on action and actors (Melucci 1996: 5). A CDA could address this by paying closer attention to interactions. Indeed, Fairclough would advocate this, although he offers little guidance about how to carry it out from his perspective of socio-linguistics other than by describing the interactions as 'semiotic' (2001: 239). At the outset, I have set aside a detailed account of the complex interactions attached to the political and social context of the production of these texts. Instead, I favour a historical account as a means to bring to light the obduracy of impotence and neediness discourse in disability policy formulations, even as reforms are evident. This aims to permit an understanding of the overriding dimension of disability in relation to the predominance of notions of neediness.

Data analysis: exploring the NDIS and neediness Documents in scope

SO (National People with Disability and Carers Council 2009) presents a broad scope of disability experience in Australia. Its authors explicitly state that the consultations involved self-selected contributors and that the report cannot be relied on as the sole source of data in developing the NDS. It is, however, seen as 'a useful way of bringing together the voices of those people with disabilities, their families, friends and carers and the organisations that support them who provided submissions and participated in consultations.' (Disclaimer 2009). One question the consultation sought to address was to uncover dimensions of the problems faced by individuals. Each chapter uses a catchy title that paints a picture of a life that falls short of wider community expectations and of the UNCRPD: 'Excluded and Ignored'; 'Broke and Broken; 'Can't get a job'; 'Can't get there, can't get in, can't get it'; 'The wasted years'; 'Isolated and Alone'. The report adopts a focus on social and economic experiences rather than personal struggles with impairment. It is grounded in a commitment to the UNCRPD (2009: iv). In order to align my investigation around the issue of reform of services, I concentrate the CDA on Chapter 2 relating to the struggles of the service system and declarations of need (UNCRPD, 2009: 18-37).

Following the release of SO, the then Minister for Disability, Hon Bill Shorten, sought that the Productivity Commission carry out a feasibility study into the development and implementation of an NDIS. The Commission conducted two waves of consultations during 2011 and 2012. The first--which considered problems with the current disability service system and possible remedies--produced a discussion paper that was consulted on widely throughout the states. The second wave focused on elements of the proposed NDIS and critical issues in its development and implementation. This resulted in the release of the report in August 2012 and its almost immediate acceptance by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who also set a tight deadline for the rollout of trials, commencing in mid-2014. While it claims to address broader aspects of disadvantage related to disability, the proposal predominantly deals with service system changes, funding, and governance. Substantial sections of the two-volume, twenty chapter report concentrate on the technical and actuarial aspects of the implementation of the NDIS. It also contains an analysis of the need for change. As the primary concern in the present study is problem formulation (Bacchi 2009), I concentrate the CDA on Chapter 2: 'Why real change is needed' (Bacchi, 2009: 157-200).

This narrowing of critical attention to problem formulation by several stakeholder groups--including the Every Australian Counts Campaign (a grassroots campaign to support the introduction of the NDIS), and peak bodies for carers, service providers, and people with disability--does not imply a lack of appreciation of the significance of SO in contributing to the NDS. It does, however, suggest that of the six identified areas for reform noted in the introduction, services have received the dominant policy emphasis. My question here is whether the sole attention to need drives out concern with other aspects of life. Because the reform processes--at service-system level and in the wider community and politics of disability--are only in the early stages of the design implementation of the NDIS, it is appropriate to explore in depth the problem formulations that appear to be driving these reforms. Any wider critique requires data not yet available through the many evaluation activities of the NDIS and the monitoring and reporting provisions in the National Disability Strategy.

Stage 1: Focusing on the problem of language in disability policy: a policy palimpsest and the scriptio inferior

Formal Australian disability history writing is limited and frequently looks back to movements within the US and the UK. Therefore, it is not possible to ground this CDA only in the context of Australian disability history. Advocating a shift to a cultural reading of disability history rather than relying solely on materialist readings, Borsay (2002) offers an opening for examining the ways in which disabled people are represented within the wider culture while contributing to those representations. Foregrounding policy shifts across the period from the early nineteenth century, analysis of the palimpsest directs us to examine the deeply submerged but enduringly powerful social apprehensions --of fear, disgust, pity, and curative ambition--that construct disability as a problem requiring public intervention (Borsay 2002: 107-108). This reveals the clashes and the layering of discursive practices that are productive of disability, disclosing a history of regulation by, refusal of, and resistance to welfare policy (Park & Radford 1999; Kudlick 2005). Such discontinuity suggests undeclared compliance with a limiting scriptio inferior which, to Scotch, indicates the 'incorporation of cultural constructs of worthiness and morality, both in its broad conception and in concrete criteria of eligibility' (2000: 6).

Through this process of 'looking back' the CDA is presented with a grounding that identifies persistent semiotic threads, such as 'need', 'impotence', 'dependency' and 'desert' that may be discernible in contemporary policy debates, captured in the two documents under analysis. The analysis begints in Australia in 1980, because it marks the growing amplification of voices about claims for community living, social inclusion and, as the twentieth century draws to a close, rights. These debates occur both within and alongside calls for reform of services. It is important, however, to recognise that the disability services system in Australia already had a long history, very similar to the systems in the UK and the US, characterised by offering charity, cure, or containment (Mencher 1968: xvi).

Australian disability policy from the 1980s and into the 2000s: preserving neediness and dependency

The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 saw the emergence of Disabled Persons International, which amplified the voices of those dependent on services and was based on a growing view that impotence arises not from impairment but from dependency on services (Vernon & Swain 2002: 78). In Australia, disability activists found shared cause with parents and progressive service workers in the lead-up to the election of the Hawke Government in 1983 (Lee 2002: 147-148). Under the guidance of then Social Security Minister Don Grimes, the Federal Government conducted the first-ever national consultation of people with disability, families and service providers. Known as the Handicapped Programs Review, this consultation, which resulted in the New Directions Report (1985) and the passage of the Disability Services Act (C'wth 1986) (DSA 1986), established the pattern for future consultations. The consultations revealed a narrative of services controlling people's lives, enforcing low expectations, imposing limitations on movement into communities, and denying access to vital services such as education and employment. While the language of impotence was no longer used in public discourse, the New Directions Report (1985) demostrates that those dependent on services regarded powerlessness--not impairment--as the crucial restraint on their aspirations.

Yet, as institutions lost centre stage, community based services transformed into mechanisms of collectivisation. DSA 1986 established the Disability Services Program, which block-funded a new generation of disability services and initiated a process of reform in services, pressuring them by the early 1990s to move from outmoded large, segregated formats to new-style small community based programs (Hallahan 2011: 63-65). Following pressure from the disability rights movement, the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1992 and matched by various pieces of state legislation. Australians also participated centrally in moves by the United Nations to develop the UNCRPD.

There were few further changes until the election of the Rudd Government in 2007, which ushered in another round of consultations and service sector redesign. The Australia-wide consultations regarding living with disability in Australia were conducted by the National People with Disability and Carers Council, and resulted in the Shut Out Report of 2009 (SO) and the consultations by the Productivity Commission in 2010 and 2011.

SO concludes that the service system is 'broke and broken', requiring significant resource increase and redesign. It captures the stories of individuals with disability and carers in tones that communicate a combination of urgent need for support and anger about lack of, inadequate, or inappropriate supports that are in effect disempowering. It concludes that the reforming direction in the New Directions Report (1985) has failed, and that new options must be sought and developed.

These consultations contributed to the development of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, (Council of Australian Governments 2010) involving all states with the federal government in a strategy clearly linked to social inclusion, aiming at ensuring that people with disability can participate as equal citizens in all areas of Australian life. As noted in the Introduction, it lists service provision as only one of six areas for policy focus. The more general concern with equal participation is grounded in the UNCRPD, which was ratified by Australia in early 2008.

Stage 2: Identifying the scriptio inferior in SO and DCS

Here the analysis shifts from the wider discursive context to the policy documents under consideration. In Stage 2 Fairclough directs the analysis to pay attention to the representation of what he calls the 'needs-based problem' within the texts under consideration. SO and DCS present findings from two national consultations conducted in the lead-up to the introduction of the NDIS. Both documents stress a normative basis, asserting that the UNCRPD establishes the rights framework upon which they build. They both offer first-person accounts of the pressures that disabled citizens and their families face. SO is particularly vivid in its depiction of this. DCS is directed at presenting research-based arguments alongside the evidence Commissioners heard of the difficulties disabled citizens face when navigating the service system.

More than half the 750 submissions and the contributions from the 2,500 people who attended the SO consultations referred to the inadequacy of the services system, in particular that they 'served as a barrier to, rather than facilitator of their social participation' (2009: 4). They also talked about the need for supports and services, and the ongoing struggle to have these needs met. Direct quotes describe the difficulties of living with unmet need and the problems with missing out in a rationed system. This is summed up thus:
   Services are often so limited that individuals report going to
   extraordinary lengths to meet eligibility criteria and receive
   support. This process often leaves them feeling demeaned and
   humiliated. Parents also expressed frustration at consistently
   being told to be positive and have high expectations--while at the
   same time being forced to paint the worst possible picture of their
   child and their needs in order to access support. (2009: 20)

Section 2.2, 'Broke and Broken: the Struggles of the Services System' refers to the welfare response. The introduction by Rhonda Galbally, then Chair of the National People with Disability and Carers Council, sums up the central message of the document:
   For many years, people with disabilities found themselves shut
   in--hidden away in large institutions. Now many people with
   disabilities find themselves shut out--shut out of buildings,
   homes, schools, businesses, sports and community groups. They
   find themselves shut out of our way of life. As this report sadly
   illustrates, Australians with disabilities are among our nation's
   forgotten people. But it is time for their stories to be heard--and
   acted upon. (2009: vi)

The intractability of the problem occurs in the persistence of being denied a life that accords with community expectations. The contents page of SO provides a succinct description of the persistent and multidimensional difficulties faced by disabled Australians, ranging through: discrimination; the inaccessibility of the built environment; educational and employment exclusion; and social isolation. These areas in turn translated into the National Disability Strategy.

DCS follows directly in this vein. Indeed, the inquiry was mounted in response to the findings in SO as well as to ongoing lobbying from within the disability movement. The Productivity Commission received 1,062 submissions, and a number of public hearings were conducted. Most referred to the need for change away from a rationed block-funded approach to service provision and towards a more comprehensive system based on the choice and control of the recipient. The report builds its case for change by looking at the patterns of exclusion and disadvantage among disabled people, as well as the scale of unmet need. This underlines the intractability of the situation of exclusion within this population, but it also advances a further case regarding failure of the service system.

DCS paints a picture of people with disability experiencing unmet or inadequately met needs, requiring solutions that draw in more resources and a restructuring of disability supports and services. Close reading of the report suggests that linking the personal narratives of difficulty with rights claims and a social scientific evidence base contributes to the dominant discourse around unmet need and welfare failure. The report builds its case on this articulation of need and systems failure, presenting it as the prevailing driver of change.

The 'deep', but also highly explicit and overwhelming message of neediness within DCS resonates with part of the presentation of disability experience presented in SO. Both build a case that need is unmet as a result of poor welfare system performance. Both refer to the system as broke and broken, requiring immediate and dramatic reform. Accepting that this lies at the heart of disability experience in Australia reveals an understanding of the problem akin to Johnston and Helm's description of path dependency in US disability policy:

This array of multiple, often overlapping, policies and programs for people with disabilities is the product of centuries of evolution. The footprints of past practice often remain long after the actual institutions and programs for policy delivery have disappeared or been radically restructured (Johnston & Helm 2008: 173).

The key point here is that concentrating on the complexities, difficulties and inadequacies of the service system, rather than other possible problem formulations--e.g., the profile of impairment, community attitudes or discrimination--suggests a response to neediness as the responsibility of governments, even when competing understandings might raise the possibility of fresh problem formulations and solutions.

Stage 3: Exploring who needs to see disability as persistent neediness

SO identifies services as barriers to, rather than facilitators of participation. Of course, the SO consultations asked for feedback about barriers and problems, and those who had complaints tended to turn up at consultations (2009: 64).

This conclusion is reflected in the findings of DCS. Two themes emerge, seemingly contradictory, but found to cohere within the Productivity Commission's conclusions. On one hand, the Inquiry accepts the view, articulated publicly within SO and also through the summary of its consultations, that service inadequacy and service system inefficiency contribute to reduced life chances for service recipients. Further, it accepts the view of service providers that inadequate funding, inflexible service models, poor staffing capacity, and the weight of form-filling impair services' attempts to deliver quality to their consumers.

Here the conclusions of the two reports differ slightly but significantly. SO introduces another note, namely community understanding:
   The general public believes much has changed in the past 30
   years. And it is true that important gains have been made. But
   the prosperity of recent times has not been shared equally. People
   with disabilities feel forgotten. The tales told in the submissions
   are heart-wrenching and distressing. Page after page tells of
   suffering and despair. There is also enormous frustration and
   anger at a lack of progress after so long (2009: 2).

Following this view, the advocated policy solution points towards attention to community attitudes. Conversely, DCS does not attribute underdevelopment within the disability sector to community indifference, but rather to poor design, lack of integration, inadequate resourcing, and lack of long-term planning (2011: 1-18). Fairclough suggests that probing further here will help us to identify the interests of those who aim to preserve the current situation even while appearing to seek reform. Both documents have been produced with consensus building in mind, so there is scant evidence of powerful interests dictating problem formulation and solutions or conflict among sets of interests. This attempt to arrive at a 'monologue' (Fairclough 2001: 264) may be evidence of an agreement among all parties that the problem can be tackled without fundamental change (Fairclough 2001: 253). But, as Fairclough would also have us ask: 'who might benefit from the problem not being resolved?' (Fairclough 2001: 236). This requires reading against the grain of the documents, both of which advocate an open, progressive, remediating stance. The policy palimpsest approach to reading disability history reminds us that it is often only later that we can see how powerful groups, in this case service providers, use the moment of reform to entrench their own interests, especially in relation to resource consolidation.

This stage of the CDA opens this question out further. Within the pages of both reports, we see the traces of the humiliation that people experience when they rely for most, if not all of their lives, on human services that are scarce. They must assert a right for it based on claims of superior need, powerlessness, or heightened vulnerability, as evidenced in Section 2.2 of SO (see above). This accords with Margalit's (1996: 224) view that welfare dependency is in itself humiliating when described in terms familiar within SO: second class citizenship, paternalism, diminished social status, and the consequent inability to exercise rights as adults. The irony we encounter here is that, while people can name this humiliation, they want--in part, at least--solutions that lie within more, not less, welfare provision, even if it requires submitting to further tests for entitlement. This suggests that the nexus between disability, impotence, neediness and dependency remains as central to the current reforms as to all earlier stages of reform. While SO contains pointers to change efforts not solely directed at welfare reform, these are obscured by the time the design of the NDIS is well advanced by the Productivity Commission.

Stage 4: Exploring unrealised possibilities for change towards increased participation

While, on the surface, it appears that the sought-after emphasis on service funding reform in response to unmet need provides a victory for the disability movement, it potentially elides other claims that have a more transformative potential. Fairclough suggests that 'it is within the texts and interactions that unrealised potentials for dealing with the obstacles concretely manifest themselves' (Fairclough 2001: 239).

SO points us to the NDS with its six broad areas of remedy. DCS points only to remedies related to the services system. While neither document declares the political influences shaping their findings we must look to the nature of the submissions to both sets of consultations and to attendant campaigns, in particular the Every Australian Counts Campaign. Auspiced by a coalition of provider, carer and disability peak bodies, the Every Australian Counts Campaign was set up as an explicit avenue for citizens with disability and their families to express their frustrations with current provision and their hope for positive change through the NDIS. Its website contains many stories of people writing about their lives, especially to convey the necessity for more and better services. The submissions to both consultations are often more formal in tone and attract a wider range of contributors, but also focus on the inadequacy of the current service system. A critical reading of these associated texts shows that the vigour of the needs discourse is driven, in large part, by groups within the disability movement--especially the families of those with significant impairments--and sections of the services sector, especially as they articulate disappointment with current service arrangements.

Both SO and DCS identify, slightly to one side, a set of concerns about other pathways to change: recognition of the past and present history of violence and rights denial in services and the wider community; discrimination and denial of opportunity; and finally, the emergence of a disability culture centred on pride. This suggests that the NDIS as crucial reform is a product of political processes in which the discourse of need trumped the discourses of rights fulfillment, community access, and social and economic participation.

This CDA therefore reveals a persistent theme in problem formulation of the powerlessness and neediness of disabled people, and in the overriding necessity for a services response. The Stage One historical map points to a scriptio inferior of impotence, neediness and dependency, even as it affects debates with a growing clamour for community living, inclusion, and rights recognition--a discourse that leads to the 2008 ratification of the UNCRPD. This high note for rights recognition is subdued in the amplification of the neediness scripts in the move from SO to DCS. Finally, on the evidence of the texts under examination, both key groups--disabled Australians and their families, and service providers --in this discursive journey arrive at a shared view about the need for more and better services, even though all parties must accept a level of compromise. Disabled Australians accept eligibility tests, which they have described in the past as belittling. Services accept a level of criticism that they are part of the problem. Fairclough sees this as the emergence of monologue, even where dialectical discourses are apparent (Fairclough 2001: 264). Minority voices advocating social integration are present, but muted.

This apparent tendency to step back from the liberatory potential of the NDS reforms, throwing more resources and policy effort into expansion of the services system, can be explored further by revisiting the debate between Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser about redistribution and/or recognition. Fairclough argues that general theories have a place in adding depth to the outcomes of CDA, especially in the process of recontextualising--placing the discourse within a wider, boundary crossing context (Fairclough 2010: 519).

The Honneth-Fraser debate is summarised in their joint work, Redistribution or Recognition: Political-Philosophical Exchange (2003). They agree that an adequate understanding of justice must take account of struggles for redistribution--through taxation, welfare, and wages reform--and struggles for recognition, relating to respect for minority and excluded groups. Honneth asserts that recognition is a fundamental moral category under which distribution is a derivative and that redistribution will follow. Fraser rejects this, arguing for a 'perspectival dualism' that casts the two categories as co-fundamental and mutually irreducible dimensions of justice (Honneth & Fraser, 2003: 3). Fraser concludes that misrecognition of certain groups, in our case disabled Australians and their families, is best viewed as 'institutionalised patterns of cultural value in whose construction they have not equally participated and which disparage their distinctive characteristics' (2003: 29).

The CDA shows that the emergence of the monologue on disability in the present era of reform both takes into account feelings of humiliation--as a point within the SO consultations--and group status issues as demonstrated by the highlighting of persistent disadvantage among disabled Australians in DCS. The consensus between disabled people and their service providers found within both reports suggests that disabled people will undergo a level of misrecognition (via tests for eligibility and assessment of support needs) but this will be substantially addressed by increased attention on distribution, via access to more funded services.

This consensus occurs by means of a dominant view that some categories of disabled people possess limited power and resources to address their own needs, which are, in turn, hard and expensive to meet. While this might be viewed as self-evident--incapacity over a lifetime is limiting--Fraser sees misrecognition not as a subjective state of individuals, but as a group status issue. This position of course aligns with a social model of disability (Oliver 1990) and is largely uncontroversial in disability theory circles. The issue here is how quickly the social model, or group status perspective, is diminished when the starting point is an eligibility driven assessment of the functional impairment of individuals. The analysis of SO and its 'remedy', the National Disability Strategy, raises the possibility that misrecognition related to the impact of group status could also lead to misdirection of redistribution. The dominance of the neediness motif could constrain the power of a rights-focused discourse, especially those elements that address the relational aspects of overcoming social exclusion and improving participation in economic and community life. Whether the NDIS increases agency remains unknown. Within the rhetorical aspects of the DCS relating to the valorisation of choice and control, agency is seemingly elevated. However, it remains possible that neediness and dependency will trump increasing agency, especially for those people judged through eligibility and assessment processes as overwhelmingly impaired.

Stage 5: Reflecting on the analysis

CDA offers opportunities to explore the import and impact of texts and interactions within a specific public policy field. It gives scope to identifying actors and it probes areas that are often locked up because they do not yield easily to empirical social science methods. It is explicit about its values stance and does not aspire to moral neutrality.

By concluding that in allowing the NDIS narrative to dominate in disability policy debates we risk losing the reforming potential of a wider, rights-derived agenda aimed at enhanced participation and increased recognition of disabled Australians as citizens, I disclose my preference for a more encompassing approach to reform and I make clear an ideological position that has been evident throughout the paper. This, I believe, is an upfront position in CDA and it does not necessarily undermine the rigour and value of the analysis. It places it within the scope of research that embraces a critical, liberatory purpose. Vernon and Swain (2002: 92) conclude that all theorising in disability will be judged not by its academic outputs but by its contributions towards liberation. They, too, advocate a synthesis of attention to material conditions that alleviate poverty and exclusion along with recognition of cultural aspects. This study examines all these aspects, with particular emphasis on the impact of proposed reforms on improving the agency and relational status of disabled Australians, while acknowledging the necessity for attention to the material aspects of disability experience.

Conclusion: inclusion and need

From the perspective of seeking to build social inclusion, I question whether the position argued within DCS and found, in part, in SO reinforces the persistent view that the most desired response to disability is service provision, rather than other remedies--such as employment reform, community development, and rights protection. This CDA suggests these alternative remedies have lost some of their appeal in light of the intensity of the neediness voice. While the NDIS might contribute to improved resource allocation and access to improved services, without attention to a wider social inclusion debate that activates rights and concentrates on barriers to social and economic participation, the welfare response of redistribution and misrecognition, with its potential to exclude further--through impairing agency and limiting relations to the service world--could continue to dominate Australian disability politics.

In conclusion, I concur with Taylor's view (2002) that the effects of policy must always be open to more empirical research, especially detailed quantitative studies such as the various NDIS evaluation projects currently underway. The perspective of SO, with its comprehensive policy focus subsequently captured in the NDS implies that, within the production of that text, the authors heard alternative voices directed at non-distributive aspects of disability reform. These relate less to establishing eligibility for services and more to active steps aimed at the necessity for integrated, dedicated effort focused on recognising disabled Australians as citizens, pursuing rights protection, asserting a productive place within the economy, and acceptance in the community. I have argued that centring concern on need could continue a history of misrecognition of people with disability such that the exclusion--well outlined in SO and also in the opening chapters of DCS--is addressed through the provision of services, not through the wider program advanced in the National Disability Strategy. The National Disability Strategy requires policy attention and resourcing in order to address those group status issues that contribute to social exclusion.

The value of CDA in this policy space alerts all of us who seek transformation to see that any loss of momentum and investment in the NDS could well reflect and reinforce the persistent and restrictive scriptio inferior of impotence, neediness, and dependence among disabled Australian citizens. Future research, analytical and empirical, must involve close consideration of how the rights agenda finds fulfillment.


My thanks to Boyd Hunter and Gerry Redmond and the two anonymous referees for their suggestions on an early version of the paper.


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Author:Hallahan, Lorna
Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Date:Aug 5, 2015
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