CONSTRUCTING A DISABLED IDENTITY: THE INFLUENCE OF IMPAIRMENT, SOCIAL FACTORS AND REFLECTED APPRAISALS
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The claiming of an identity as disabled has important implications for impaired individuals' interpersonal interactions and well-being, however not all impaired individuals claim a disabled identity. In this dissertation I build upon social and medical models of disability by extending the work in two key ways using multi-methods. First, using a symbolic interactionist frame, I examine how individuals' experiences are mediated through self processes in shaping their identity claims. Second, I assess how the identification process is influenced by individuals' social statuses. Data used in this study is from the 1994-1995 National Health Interview Survey on Disability, a large nationally representative sample of individuals with impairments. In addition, I supplement this analysis with data from 30 qualitative interviews. Results underscore prior research showing that not all individuals who experience impairment identify as disabled. The qualitative interviews illuminated a third group not obvious in the quantitative analysis - those in the process of negotiating a disabled identity. Experiences of socially constructed barriers have important implications for claiming an identity as disabled; however experiences of impairment also have strong effects on identity claims. In depth interviews also showed social barriers, but not environmental barriers, and impairment affect impaired persons' identity claims as disabled. Self-processes perform an important role in helping impaired individuals understand their positioning in society and verify their identity claims. Reflected appraisals of being disabled increased the likelihood of claiming a disabled identity and these appraisals mediated the relationship between the experiences of socially constructed barriers, impairment and the self. In the qualitative analyses, social comparisons and self presentations were also found to be an agentic tool used by individuals to assert their identities as disabled/not disabled and in shaping others' views of them. Finally, social statuses have important implications for the construction or rejection an identity as disabled. Those with higher social statuses were MORE likely to claim disabled identity, all things equal. In the qualitative analyses, women's disabled identity claims were often disregarded, perhaps underscoring their more difficult experience verifying their identity claims. Consistent with this, interactions between social statuses and the social and medical models were identified.