Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James L. Paul, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Robert F. Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara E. Green, Ph.D


Physical impairment, Assistive technology, Life history, Marginalized individuals


Individuals with physical impairments have been marginalized and discriminated against since the social identification of these individuals occurred as a sub-group within society. While much has been done to resolve prejudice against individuals with physical impairments, more needs to be done to decrease, or at least deter, discrimination and prejudice against individuals who have been marginalized. The purpose of this study is to give four individuals with physical impairments the opportunity to tell their stories. Through the telling of these stories, I believe others can identify with these individuals, and thereby, help decrease discrimination against individuals with physical impairments.

Life history has been shown to be an effective method to study individuals with impairments. In order to facilitate understanding of what it is like to be an individual with a physical impairment, four individuals with physical impairments shared their life histories. Research questions include: How do these individuals with physical impairments understand and give meaning to their lived experiences? and How do participants in this study who have congenital disabilities differ from those who have acquired disabilities in the ways they understand and give meaning to their lives?

The research questions and parameters of interest are intended to develop and share what it is like to be an individual with a physical impairment. The researcher has known each of the participants for at least ten years. The participants include a 33 year old male with a congenital disability who is white, a 32 year old female who acquired a disability 12 years ago and who is African American, and a married couple who are 62 and 63 years old, one with a congenital disability, the other acquired a disability when she was 14 years old. The researcher shares his responses and reflections, thereby becoming the fifth participant in the study.

Because this type of research depends upon verisimilitude, the responses to the research questions are presented for each individual. Each participant defines areas of his or her life that best defines how that person constructs his or her identity and what part the physical impairment plays in that definition.

The participants feel that there are some differences between individuals with congenital physical impairments and those with acquired physical impairments. The participants relate that individuals with acquired physical impairments have greater access to funds and equipment based on their perception of how funding agencies provide services and equipment to individuals with physical impairments. The participants also feel that there is a greater stigma associated with having a congenital physical impairment compared to having an acquired physical impairment. Recommendations for future research are offered.