Framing disability among young adults with disabilities and non-disabled young adults: An exploratory study

Michal Soffer, Fiona Chew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To explore how young adults frame disability and to compare the meanings of disability between persons with and without disabilities. Method: Snow ball sampling was used to recruit the participants. The sample comprised of 14 young adults from Upstate New York area; nine were non-disabled, five had a physical disability. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze the data. Results: Five themes emerged from the analysis: disability as a deviation from "the norm", disability as inability, disability as something one needs to overcome, the role of the environment in disability, and disability as a negative phenomenon. The findings suggest that persons with disabilities hold somewhat different meanings of disability compared with non-disabled persons. Conclusions: While the biomedical frame of disability was somewhat challenged, disability is mainly understood via a biomedical lens. Disability should be framed as form of human diversity, not as a mark of Cain.Implications for RehabilitationThe ways through which disability is framed-as a medical issue or a social one-influences social attitudes and behaviors toward persons with disabilities as well as the shaping of disability policies and services. These, in turn, effect the well-being and impact the lives of persons with disabilities.In a relatively small sample which comprised of young adults with disabilities and non-disabled young adults, this study shows that while medical definitions of disability are somewhat contested, the medical definition of disability seems to prevail.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-178
Number of pages8
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors declared no conflict of interest with respect to the authorship and publication of this article. The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research in this article: funding from the Endowed Lerner Chair, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, NY, USA.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Informa UK Ltd.


  • Biomedical model of disability
  • Social model of disability
  • Young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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