By investigating the impact of the post-dictatorial blind movement on disability legislation and identities in Greece, this paper challenges the dichotomy between institutional and societal accounts of democratic transitions, and takes on themes, such as citizenship and empowerment. In doing so, it seeks to explain the paradigm shift from charity to welfare with respect to disability as part of the broader socio-political, ideological, and economic transition dynamics in Greece in the 1970s and early 1980s. The case study focuses on the “Home of the Blind,” which was a charitable institution with the stated purpose to “protect the blind.” In 1979 the Greek state took over and, subsequently, turned it into a Public Law Entity under government control, aiming to achieve “independence and social inclusion” for the Blind. This change was largely the result of a grassroots Blind movement, culminating with the six-month occupation of the “Home of the Blind” by the Panhellenic Association of the Blind from May to October 1976. My main argument is that this occupation has been an Event, in Alain Badiou’s sense, that led to the creation of a lively social movement in the long run. This Event transformed the self-image of blind people and, therefore, their identities, signaling a shift from beggary as a legitimate practice to collective action as the main form of expression for the Blind in post-dictatorial Greece.
Vassiliki Chalaza is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of the Aegean, working on the history of disability in Greece, while she is currently running an EU funded project on the Greek disability movement at the University of Thessaloniki. Her research interests lie at the intersection of disability and gender studies. Holding a B.A. in history and archaeology (University of Thessaloniki), Vassiliki Chalaza completed an M.A. in the history of the feminist movement in post-dictatorship Greece and an M.A. in Blind Identities (both from the University of Thessaly). She has published on disabled women’s identities, perceptions of Blindness, and the education of disabled Roma students.