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Carnegie Mellon University

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


This study examines disability in Chile as a possible new social movement, seeking to answer the question of whether a movement for disability rights exists and if so, what form it takes. Disability has historically been seen as an imperfection, an impairment, and something to cure if at all possible, but beginning in the mid-twentieth century, groups of disabled people have advocated for a changing perception of their own abilities, their place in society, and how society itself contributes to the disabling of people. Alongside this burgeoning movement, scholarship emerged that reconceptualized disability and proposed new models for understanding the relationship between disability, people, and society.

In Chile, like the rest of the world, disabilities, whether mental or physical, are common. In the context of social uprising in many sectors of Chilean society, it is no surprise that people with disabilities are also advocating for rights and recognition. Despite this participation in the “estallido social,” the current literature about disability in Chile focuses on the effects of disability on quality of life with regard to socioeconomic institutions such as employment and the healthcare system rather than the political implications. Although this work is vital for contextualizing disability and understanding its effect on people’s lives, this study seeks to understand the interaction between disability and Chilean social movements in the context of students with disabilities in Valparaíso, Chile. The focus of the study is on the system of “special schools” for students with intellectual disabilities and a non-governmental organization, “la Incidencia Colectiva” that runs an inclusive journalism workshop for students with disabilities. Gathering qualitative data through interviews with a school psychologist and a coordinator of the workshop, alongside videos produced by the workshop members and published documents about disability, this study presents an analysis in three specific areas: the context of the school system and its model of disability, the NGO’s project and the model of disability that emerges from its example, and finally the demands that form the movement for disability rights.

The study finds that both the school and the NGO showcase a relational model of disability, firmly rejecting the medical model supported by much of society. The special school system and the NGO have important ties to labor, communication, and legal rights. The study finds that although the disability movement does in fact exist in Chile, it does not have as much recognition in the midst of other movements that form the “estallido social,” although there are still opportunities for social change led by this movement.


Civic and Community Engagement | Disability and Equity in Education | Disability Studies | Journalism Studies | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies | Politics and Social Change | Social Justice


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