Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Beth A. Ferri


adulthood, disability studies, ethnography, intellecutal disabilities, Korean American, transition

Subject Categories



The transition to adulthood is complicated for youth with intellectual disabilities from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) Families. This ethnographic research explores the daily lives of six adults with intellectual disabilities who live in one urban Korean American community. In particular, the ethnographic observational, interview and textual data have been analyzed in terms of which activities associated with adulthood the participants could or could not engage in, in comparison to the practices of their non-disabled peers in this community. Besides the six focus participants with intellectual disabilities, I also interviewed six other youth and adults with disabilities, six parents of youth or adult children with disabilities and six staff and volunteers who participated in a Christian community organization. The practice of service emerged as a main theme for understanding experiences of transition to adulthood. While the Korean community actively reproduces the culture of serving as an adult, especially in age hierarchy, food serving culture, and volunteerism, the participants with intellectual disabilities in this research were excluded from opportunities to serve as contributing adult members in these areas. Instead, my participants were fixed in the role of being served, despite demonstrating a variety of examples of how they provided service to others, in purely voluntary actions in their daily lives. In conclusion, the Korean American adults with intellectual disabilities in the study struggled to claim their adult status. I argue that being an adult entails having more chances to serve others, and that therefore a Korean community such as the one I observed would need to create more spaces for people with intellectual disabilities to serve others as adults. The practice of service can be implemented in a way that would not reestablish a colonial, ableist, pity-based or charity model of disability, but rather would highlight different kinds of service to others as an element of interdependence. Recommendations for transition and further research are included.


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