Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Alan Foley


Identity, politicism

Subject Categories



This dissertation documented the political disability identities of nine disabled adults. It also explored how these disabled adults enacted their political disability identities. I used narrative analysis to analyze the data, which included life history interviews and the authoring of memoirs. From these memoirs, the participants (Narrators) and I selected critical moments in the formation of the political disability identities. The findings show Narrators shifted or shaped their political identities when strangers pushed them beyond their personal limits by spouting ableist norms. Narrators also developed their political disability identities when they had access to political discourse and the relative freedom of postsecondary education. Other Narrators developed their political identities when they experienced significant changes in their lives, which included freedom from abuse and interacting with underserved disabled students. The Narrators enacted their political disability identities in various ways. Some Narrators were advocates for the elimination of ableism and during their struggles with it, showed that they also reinforced ableist norms. Some Narrators had been oppressed for so long that they first developed a new ethic of care for themselves and then worked to help other disabled people implement a similar way of life that was dignified, equitable, and without shame. Finally, Narrators selected careers where they could simultaneously sustain themselves and fight against ableism. This dissertation shows the political disability identity contextualized in the Narrators’ lives, because isolating a component of identity both skews the findings and removes the necessary human aspects, which are unpredictable and complex. This research and additional research of the personal and cultural components of disability identity sheds a new light on our current understanding of the disability identity as a whole.


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