Toward Improving the Awareness of Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities through Leisure Activities: A Case Study of Self-Advocacy Movement in Taiwan
My research focuses on the development of self-advocacy movement in Taiwan and how the movement collaborates with those in Japan and other parts of East Asia. According to Self-Advocacy for Inclusion: A Global Report, which was published by Inclusion International in October 2016, “Self-Advocacy is about knowing our rights and that we must be included in all parts of community, just like people without disabilities. Self-Advocacy is about working together to make change in our communities” (p.14).
As my writing “Self-Advocacy of People with Intellectual Disabilities in Taiwan: Collaboration with Japan and Challenges over Easy-Read Information” was published at this research highlight section in June 20201, I briefly explained about the background of collaboration between persons with intellectual disabilities in Taiwan and those in Japan. The development of self-advocacy of people with intellectual disabilities in Taiwan is deeply associated with the history of a parents’ association for persons with intellectual disabilities. It is also associated with welfare organizations and organizations for special education which are managed by professionals.
In 2008, Parents’ Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability, Taiwan (hereinafter referred to as PAPID), which is a joint association of the parents’ associations for persons with intellectual disabilities in Taiwan, launched a nationwide network (its name is changed every fiscal year) in a connection within local parents’ associations, welfare organizations and activities by people with intellectual disabilities in order to promote independent living and self-advocacy of people with intellectual disabilities. While many supporters of organizations which participate in the nationwide network include social workers, the First Social Welfare Foundation, which has participated in the network since 2013, is supported by supported employment specialists.
The First Social Welfare Foundation, one of the three largest private welfare organizations which provides services for children and people with intellectual disabilities in Taipei, was founded in 1980 by professionals on special education. Many of the staffs at the Foundation are professionals on special education. They have mainly provided services for early intervention for children with intellectual disabilities. In 1993, the Foundation initiated adult day-care services and group-home services. Moreover, the Foundation was entrusted with an employment support business for people with disabilities by the Department of Labor of Taipei City Government in 2012. In this way, the Foundation has gradually expanded services for adult with intellectual disabilities.
In August 2019, I interviewed a supported employment specialist who has been working at the Foundation for 16 years to understand how the Foundation has promoted self-advocacy, and how the Foundation participated in the nationwide network.
In the late 1990s, the Foundation initiated leisure activities to provide fruitful lives to users within the organization. Then, in order to stabilize employment of users, the supported employment specialists at the Foundation have conducted leisure activities on a regular basis either on weeknights or weekends. At first, the supported employment specialists did not consider self-advocacy of users. Since the Foundation’s participation in the nationwide network launched by PAPID and its interaction with other associations, the supported employment specialists discussed how to support the users so that the users could become active. Then, the supported employment specialists organized a group called ‘Social Club of First Social Welfare Foundation for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities who are in Employment’ and continued the leisure activities for those with intellectual disabilities who are in employment. The leisure activities were planned by the supported employment specialists at an initial stage, but gradually those activities came to be planned to reflect the expectations of the members with intellectual disabilities. From 2013 through the present, the social club has determined various things with the members with intellectual disabilities including the preparation of some activities, changing the name of the group (the name of the group was changed to ‘Social Club for Happy Time’ in 2017), and its participation requirements. Every year, the president and vice-president of the social club are elected by its members, and candidates with intellectual disabilities themselves conduct election campaigns with those for president or vice-president. This election is different from other groups of people with intellectual disabilities in that those who have the right to vote under a secret ballot system of this election are not only the members with intellectual disabilities but also their supporters. This election is conducted in the same way as those of the president or governors or policy makers in Taiwan. The group uses this system so that users can experience political participation and have awareness of civil rights.
On the night of the interview, I participated in a meeting of ‘Social Club for Happy Time’. One of the agendas of the meeting was the future vision of the group. Although the staffs are aware of the importance that people with intellectual disabilities themselves lead the group, members with intellectual disabilities conduct few autonomous activities at this moment. Therefore, they focus on how people with intellectual disabilities should gain awareness of their societal rights. Self-advocacy does not lead to civil rights movement in which people with intellectual disabilities act by themselves immediately as it develops gradually. As the First Social Welfare Foundation and Social Club for Happy Time, other associations and groups by people with intellectual disabilities are at different stages toward self-advocacy in different parts of Taiwan. In order to change the society through actions by people with intellectual disabilities, I think how the nationwide network will collaborate with organizations and groups by people with intellectual disabilities, in addition to continuous efforts by groups by people with intellectual disabilities, are important.
Eunice Ya-Yu KAO
Graduate Student, Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University
Photo 1: A member with intellectual disabilities raises his hand to express his opinion at the meeting of ‘Social Club for Happy Time’ (The photo is taken by myself)
Photo 2: Headquarter of the First Social Welfare Foundation (The photo is taken by myself)
Photo 3: Meeting material of the ‘Social Club for Happy Time’ (The photo is taken by myself)