Disability, Identity, and Cultural Diversity

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Stephen French Gilson
Elizabeth Depoy


culture, identity, qualitative inquiry, disability theory


Eighteen disabled individuals, nine with disabilities present at birth and nine with acquired disabilities participated in tape recorded interviews lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. For this study, disabilities present at birth were defined as those disabilities identified or diagnosed by the age 5 years; acquired disabilities were those disabilities that occur after an individual's 5th birthday.  Life stages were identified as: Middle Childhood/Adolescence (ages 8 years through 17 years); Beginning Adulthood/Young Adulthood (age 18 years through 34 years); and, Middle Adulthood/Later Adulthood (age 35 years and older). The mixed method design relying on semi-structured interview and inductive analysis was used to answer the following research questions: (a) what are the nature and scope of disability cultural identity articulated by informants; (b) and what differences in disability cultural identity are related to informant age, condition and onset? Five themes emerged from the transcripts: fitting in; disability wisdom; it's just what you do; I can do it despite what you say; and disability talk as shared interest versus talk as boring. None of these themes revealed cross disability identity. Despite being unable to answer the initial research questions in the manner anticipated, the data analysis provided important and challenging knowledge and implications for further inquiry and practice.

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