Disability reform and the role of women: Community inclusion and caring work

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Steven Taylor


Women's studies, Developmental disabilities, Disability reform, Role of women

Subject Categories

Special Education and Teaching


This is a feminist qualitative study of the role of women in the current reform movement toward full inclusion of people with developmental disabilities into regular community life. Despite the fact that women constitute the vast majority of those who carry out the day-to-day work of the reform, their contributions remain unnoticed and invisible.

In examining the role of women in disability reform this study combines feminist scholarship and disability studies. The study examines women's caregiving and relationship-building in three different arenas: the 32 women who are the focus of this study provide care for people with disabilities in the family as mothers of children with disabilities, in the human service system as paid workers, and in the context of friendship. Data were collected over a period of 4 years and the two main methods of data collection were participant observation and indepth interviewing.

The study de-emphasizes caring as a personality trait and locates it in social interactions. It traces how women are recruited for caregiving from an early age through powerful social arrangements and demonstrates how these recruitment processes and the social construction of women as caregivers continue throughout women's lives. One finding of the study is how similar women's caring work is across the three domains studied. The analysis also outlines the multiple ways women's caring work is made invisible and points out that the current trend in the disability field has the potential to exploit women. The study concludes by drawing some lessons for feminist scholarship and disability policy.


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