Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Madonna Harrington Meyer
Adulthood, Agency, Disability, Life Course, Social Policy
What adulthood goals do young disabled people set and what factors shape their goal setting and achievement? To answer these questions, I conducted 29 life history interviews with young disabled Millennials and analyzed them using an iterative grounded theory approach. My analysis is informed by social ecological theory, life course theory, and biopsychosocial models of disability to gain an understanding of how the social world shapes respondents’ movement through the transition to adulthood in the context of disability. I find that disabled Millennials pursue a diverse array of goals across personal, health, educational, economic, residential, relational, and community domains. However, high and low social ecological expectations from interpersonal, organizational, community, and societal contexts amplify and constrain respondents’ ambitious goal setting. Furthermore, individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and societal barriers beyond expectations prevent respondents’ adulthood goal achievement. Individual barriers include limited income, personal debt, insufficient knowledge of available resources, low and shifting motivations, and disability-related changes. Interpersonally, limited economic resources and social connections, family discord, abuse, and low-quality and unreliable care disrupt goal achievement and can lead to life course exclusions. Organizational barriers prevented goal achievement, including inflexible schedules, inaccessible physical settings, limited informal support, and disability-related requirements and retaliation. Communities with limited opportunities and resources, inaccessible environments, social hierarchies, accommodation failure, and disorganization curtail goal achievement. Lastly, restrictive social policy, insufficient labor market opportunities, limited non-family care options, and over-complicated health care systems prevent goal achievement. Reciprocally, I find that some social ecological factors support disabled adults’ goal achievement. Respondents suggest that individual characteristics such as self-discipline, personal motivation, adapting goals, planning, developing skills, and staying mentally and physically healthy facilitated goal achievement. Interpersonal relationships support life course transitions through material, informational, instrumental, and emotional support, mainly supporting the areas of education, economics, and residence. Organizations help respondents achieve adulthood goals by providing scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance; information regarding various opportunities; high-quality health insurance; formal and informal accommodations; and access to broader groups of people. Communities that are disability-friendly, physically and socially accessible, and provide opportunities for personal growth can facilitate goal achievement. Societal factors such as social assistance programs, disability services, health care access and quality, and widening opportunity pathways support respondents’ goal achievement. My findings shed light on potential interventions to build a more robust support system to facilitate disabled adults’ transitions across domains, specifically highlighting legal, policy, and practical solutions.
Stevens, J Dalton, "Adulting While Disabled" (2023). Dissertations - ALL. 1679.
Available for download on Thursday, June 12, 2025