Where "Handicaped Facilities" Come From: A Network Analysis of the Construction Process of Barrier-Free Environment

Author Info
Tasing Chiu
Department of Medical Sociology and Social Work, Kaohsiung Medical University

Article 23 of the January 24, 1990 amendment to Taiwan's Disabled Person Welfare Law specifies that newly-constructed public facilities, structures, community centers and transportation tools shall install devices and facilities convenient for the movement and usage of the disabled, and that, in the case of non-compliance, construction permits shall not be issued. In the 10 years following this amendment, billions of NT dollars have been spent in installing these devices and facilities for the disabled. Unfortunately, this public investment appears largely to have been in vain. Most of the new facilities and construction work have not helped the disabled to move about freely; rather, the result has been, for instance, new barriers on sidewalks. How did the implementation of "barrierfree" policy go so wrong? To answer this question, this paper applies actor network theory (ANT) to analyze the process of constructing barrier-free environments. Data used in this study include documents (news, autobiographies and biographies of the disabled, and design manuals and codes), interviews (orientation and mobility teachers, disability group leaders, barrier-free environment designers), and participant-observation (participating in barrier-free training courses and meetings, and observing barrier-free environments and facilities). Through this network analysis, we can gain insight into the rich, dynamic interaction between the barrier-free facilities and their social context.

Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, Number 6 (April 2008), 43-70.