Personal assistance for disabled people and the understanding of human being

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This paper explores personal assistance – a practice considered crucial for supporting the independence and social inclusion of disabled people. The starting point of the analysis is the presumption that the significance of personal assistance goes well beyond welfare, touching upon existential-ontological issues. In order to uncover these issues, a phenomenological approach is used. The aim is to highlight the understanding of human being which is mediated by an internationally prominent model of personal assistance, to wit, the one promoted by the European Independent Living advocates, as described by Adolf Ratzka (2004a). It is argued that despite its liberal-individualist assertions the scheme described by Ratzka presupposes a distributed, relational understanding of human being. A case study of recent disability-related activism in Bulgaria is developed in order to further substantiate this claim. In conceptual terms, then, the paper adds a fresh perspective to the debates on individualist vs. collectivist approaches to disability equality. This perspective is informed by the phenomenological insights of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In policy terms the paper argues for the necessity of promoting and supporting disabled people’s self-organizing, most importantly peer support and advocacy activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242–261
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • disability
  • independent living
  • phenomenology


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