• participation;
  • disability;
  • participatory action research;
  • discrimination;
  • ableism


Participation is often espoused as a strategy to promote inclusion, social justice and equality. Exactly how to facilitate participation in practice is often not explicated, nor are the challenges or issues highlighted. By drawing on interview data, the first aim of this paper is to identify the key barriers to participation in an organizational planning activity as experienced by 12 disabled and non-disabled staff and board members in a small community-based disability advocacy organization. The second aim is to draw upon Jim Ife's principles of participation to further analyse the factors that hinder and enable participation in organizations. Reported barriers to participation were categorized at individual, interpersonal and organizational levels of analysis, and included a lack of skills and competence, interpersonal conflicts, poor resourcing and ad hoc processes. The importance of understanding the dynamic interplay of individual and structural factors, valuing different forms of participation and having participatory structures and processes embedded in organizational settings are all highlighted. This study illustrates that, even in an organization that is specifically attuned to meeting the needs of disabled people, there is still considerable exclusion and institutional discrimination. Strategies to promote participation within an organizational context may include providing sufficient time for reflection and support, and opportunities for board members to learn how to take part in constructive planning activities and to develop their strengths. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.