Disability as an Identity: Disability Cultural Centers in Higher Education
AuthorSaia, Toni Ann
AdvisorHartley, Michael T.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractFocused on the role of a disability cultural center in higher education from the perspective of disabled students, this qualitative study used a social constructivism lens to examine how disability is conceptualized through a medical versus social model on a college campus. Framing disability as an identity and social justice issue, the intent of this study was to explore the disability experience as well as the role that a disability cultural center could play in addressing social inequities faced by disabled students. Importantly, this study was one of the first to focus on how a disability cultural center can create a more welcoming campus climate for disabled students within higher education. Based on the perspectives of six disabled students, the themes that emerged from the qualitative interviews highlighted a clear distinction between how participants believed the institution viewed the disability experience compared to the disability cultural center. Recognizing disability as a form of diversity, generative insights from the interviews revealed broad benefits of a disability cultural center beyond the accessibility role of a disability resource center. In particular, a disability cultural center is an avenue to: (a) increase disability leadership on campus, (b) promote more welcoming attitudes toward disability, (c) improved faculty training regarding the disability experience, (d) cultivate pride in disability culture, and (e) embrace disability as a valid human identity. Moving forward, the results of the present study may inform the development of new disability cultural centers across the United States to challenge ableism, including non-disability privilege and oppression. With this in mind, implications for institutions are presented to inform higher education and shift the narrative of disability from a medical diagnosis to a valid social identity on campus.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Degree GrantorUniversity of Arizona
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