The Perception of Social Category "Disabled People" in Estonian Society

Anne Ġuemaa

Summary of Master’s thesis

Presumably, social groups are the engine of a democratic society. Therefore, the success of social (societal) integration of "disabled people" depends upon the readiness of the social groups to accept that integration. The aim of the study was to establish the level of readiness of different social subgroups for social integration of "disabled people" in Estonia at the societal and interpersonal levels. Ten respondent subgroups were interviewed: members of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament); journalists; bank officials; lecturers; teachers; farmers; workers; retirees; the unemployed and prisoners. The questionnaire was composed and data collected by Olev Must, generously supported by a grant No 1100 by the Estonian Science Foundation in 1994. All together 804 respondents were inquired. The data obtained was processed by the SPSS Win package.

All of the respondent subgroups were rather in agreement that the "disabled people" may be considered as worthwhile, ready-to-be-integrated members of the current Estonian society. Subjects from lower status subgroups were more likely to consider "disabled people" worthwhile than were the elite subgroups.

Concerning the causes of "disability", there were no meaningful differences between the respondent subgroups while the overall rating in favour of "internal factors" was 52.6%. Between the subgroups, there was a different ratio of subjects declining to answer to this question. The elite subgroups exposed apparent difficulties when asked to rate the causal factors of "disability" as internal or external. One may explain this by the higher level knowledge of the elite subgroups about the diversity of the social category "disabled people". In none of the subgroups, the perception of causes of "disability" had no apparent impact onto the perception of the status of "disabled people"

Subjects expected the state to provide support for "disabled people" in much higher degree than for other marginal subgroups ("the poor", "ex-prisoners", "alcoholics", etc.). Compared to the role of the family, voluntary associations and self-managing ability, in the assistance of "disabled people" the role of the state was regarded as the most important by all subgroups. Teachers along with all the subgroups with lower social status rated the state obligation to provide assistance to "disabled people" higher than bank officials, journalists, lecturers and members of the Riigikogu. The "elite" subgroups rated higher the role of the family, voluntary associations and self-managing ability of a "disabled person", when compared to other subgroups.

The intention to provide shelter for a "disabled person" did not depend on the social status of subjects. It is more likely that there may be correlation between personal intention to provide assistance and other factors under discussion inside those subgroups which probably encounter "disabled people" more often. It may be the case of teachers, as well as of the subgroups with lower social status.

Altogether, it appeared that the respondent subgroups with lower social status, as well as teachers performed somewhat higher readiness to integrate "disabled people" into the society than "elite" subgroups in general. This lack of initiative of subgroups which hold the key positions in society may be considered as a risk factor, potentially inhibiting the integration of "disabled people" into the society.