Study Summary: Exploring Disability Identity with Adolescents

Original Publication: Forber-Pratt AJ, Minotti BJ, Burdick CE, Kate Brown M, Hanebutt RA. Exploring disability identity with adolescent. 2021. Rehabilitation Psychology. Advance online publication:

The purpose of this study was to explore how adolescents conceptualize disability identity and what factors may influence the development of disability identity in adolescents.

A disability identity is part of one’s self-identity and includes one’s disability, as well as their feeling of connection to the disability community. Having a positive disability identity may help disabled individuals navigate stress related to their condition. Disability identity has not been extensively studied in school-age children.

To collect the data for this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with middle and high school students with disabilities who were between the ages of 12-17. The participants had disabilities that included Autism, physical disabilities, ADHD, and learning disabilities. The students were asked to share what they understood disability identity to be and to explain what disability identity means to them.

The results of the study indicate that the development of a disability identity is a complex process for adolescents. Disability identity appears to be an important identity for adolescents; however, the importance of the participants’ disability identity varied based on their environment. Social connections to peers, both with and without disabilities, were also found to influence the development of disability identities for many of the participants in the study.