Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Michael V. Angrosino, Ph.D.


Social model, Charity model, Social movement, Applied anthropology, Medical model, Disability rights advocacy


The declaration of the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and the international activism of persons with disabilities resulted in the globalization of disability, which involved a new framework for the treatment of PWDs. Although disability activism was being played out globally, it has been about PWDs gaining equality and full participation in their local societies. Therefore, at the heart of an international movement was the strategic organization of PWDs, most of who live in the developing world. This dissertation is based on a case study of activism for disability rights in one particular developing society, Jamaica. The Jamaican movement is spearheaded by the Combined Disabilities Association (CDA), which has been at the forefront of disability rights activism locally and regionally.

The primary research question: how does CDA organize strategically to meet the needs of the broader disabled population of Jamaica is broken down into the following four sub-questions: 1) how is "disability" constructed in the context of Jamaican culture, 2) how did CDA members negotiate their original involvement and level of participation with the organization, 3) what is the nature of the linkage between the CDA and Disabled People International, and how does this relationship affect CDA's policies and procedures, and 4) what strategies does CDA employ to mobilize PWDs in Jamaica to participate in advocacy activities? These questions are explored using participant observation, semi-structured interviews, survey, and document review. Findings reveal a complex construction of disability as Jamaicans negotiate between various beliefs and ideas to understand the meaning of disability.

Furthermore, the negotiation of movement involvement by PWDs is based their connections have with fellow members as well as the personal benefits that they receive. Although the CDA has been influenced by the international disability movement, it has also contributed to the global activism, especially in the Caribbean. In a local environment overwhelmed by limited financial resources and social inequalities the CDA by default addresses some social welfare of PWDS, while pursuing its primary commitment to advocacy, resulting in numerous challenges.