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Political economy excludes disabled – study

[ UniNews Vol. 15, No. 8  15 - 29 May 2006 ]

By Janine Sim-Jones

A University of Melbourne researcher has used his personal experiences to inform a study into how current economic thinking excludes people with disabilities from education, employment and access to services.

Peter Gibilisco, who received his PhD at a recent University of Melbourne graduation ceremony, suffers from Friedreich’s Ataxia – a progressive disorder of the nervous system and muscles.

Dr Gibilisco’s doctoral thesis, The Political Economy of Disablement: A Sociological Analysis, argues that people with disabilities experience profound social exclusion as a result of the prevailing economic theories which emphasise free markets and mutual obligation.

During his PhD candidature Dr Gibilisco was supported by a Melbourne Research Scholarship (2002–2003) and won a June Opie Fellowship (2001).

“Obtaining self-esteem, social inclusion and empowerment remain key struggles for people with disabilities,’’ he says.

“Only in a system where there is significant government intervention in social and economic policies can people with disabilities be truly empowered.

“The political economy impedes people with disabilities and what I found through my research closely matched my personal experience.’’

Dr Gibilisco, who is able to type at a speed of only three words a minute, took five years to complete his 100 000-word thesis.

Dr Gibilisco’s supervisor Dr Tim Marjoribanks says his research makes a valuable contribution to an emerging field of study in Australia.

“Peter has been able to use personal experience and narrative to explore policies impacting on the lives of people with disabilities,’’ he says.

“Peter explores three key policy approaches and shows that current policies supposedly promoting the rights of people with disabilities promise a lot but don’t deliver very much at all, and often make the situation worse for a lot of people.

“It is research which provides much evidence to inform policy development in this area.’’

Dr Gibilisco continues to write articles for academic journals and hopes to obtain a postdoctoral fellowship, either in Australia or overseas.

Manager of the University’s Disability Liaison Unit, Mr Matthew Brett, says Dr Gibilisco’ success reinforces the need for good disability support to be provided by universities such as Melbourne. The Disability Liaison Unit provides support to more than 800 students each year.

But Mr Brett says Dr Gibilisco’s personal qualities have been the greatest factor in his success.

“He has shown amazing perseverance to complete his PhD in five years when he can type at only three words a minute,” he says.

“He has a great aptitude and his relationship with his supervisor has also been extremely positive.”

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