Document Type

Senior Honors Project

Publication Date



Throughout my journey of growing up, I never questioned my innate tendency to reassure people that they could look beyond my disability to see the “real me.” As I gradually began to deconstruct the framework of my disability as a barrier that needs to be overlooked, and therefore more openly claim my identity as a disabled woman, I came to explore the nuances of disability identity and culture. To expand my understanding beyond the limits of my lived experience, I explored theoretical discourse and conducted a series of seventeen interviews with people who self-identified as members of the disability community. Both research approaches illustrated a wide variety of perspectives on living with a disability and integrating disability into identity formation.

My research findings indicated that the omission, distortion, and simplification of the disability community, perpetuated by mainstream rhetoric and media representations, results in the stagnation of societal attitudes and interpretations surrounding the concept of disability. The framework of disabilities as inherently negative and pitiful obstacles, compared to the nondisabled standards of normalcy, reveals a divide between the disabled and non-disabled communities that is rooted in entrenched emotional associations. Because of the divergent understandings of disabilities, disability identity formation reflects profoundly unique and individual experiences, transcending any universally shared process. Nevertheless, a sense of connection to a broader disability culture arises as a strategic form of resistance to the hegemonic non-disabled norms and expectations. Disability culture celebrates disability as an integral dimension of identity and fosters pride in autonomy, unity, and advocacy.