Invisible Bodies: Revealing the Unseen Contributions of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities

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Abbas, Jihan




This doctoral thesis explores the unpaid labour of persons with intellectual disabilities in rehabilitation and training sites, the home, and the community in order to confront problematic policies and legislation that result in exclusion and exploitation. Grounded in theories of historical materialism, political economies of disability, theories of care, inclusion and exclusion and with attention to intersectionality, this thesis focuses on how these labour experiences are shaped by a legacy of developmental services that are reliant on the economic exploitation and exclusion of these bodies. A qualitative research project, rooted in participatory research and institutional ethnography, and drawing from the labour experiences of persons with disabilities, advocates, and stakeholders, investigates the labour experiences of persons with intellectual disabilities within their broader socio-economic and policy contexts. This thesis makes two key arguments. First, I argue that an examination of this unpaid labour is necessary to make visible the capacities and contributions of many adults with intellectual disabilities and to lay the foundation for funding and policy solutions that promote stronger versions of inclusion that are not reliant on labour market participation or economic norms. Second, I argue that programs and policies that value interdependence and view inclusion as a process separate from the labour market have the potential to support more varied capacities and reshape the social construction of intellectual disability in powerful ways. Finally, this thesis challenges current conceptualizations of caring relationships that have shaped developmental policy for persons with intellectual disabilities; I argue that these conceptualizations are rooted in dominant social constructions of intellectual disability that understand these bodies as dependent and idle. The thesis highlights the urgent need to address existing legislation and policy practices that systemically render these contributions invisible and encourage the exploitation and marginalization of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Its findings lead to calls for policy interventions that acknowledge the unpaid contributions of people with intellectual disabilities, to reimagine how inclusion is conceptualized and promoted, and support the development of concrete measures that recognize and make visible these capacities.  


Public and Social Welfare
Industrial and Labor Relations
Individual and Family Studies




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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