The Meaning of Disability: Volume 18, Number3 pp. 35-52 Implications for Inclusive Leisure Services for Youth With and Without Disabilities.


  • Mary Ann Devine
  • Barbara Wilhite


youth with and without disabilities, social construction of disability, meaning of disability, inclusion, inclusive leisure services


There is a growing body of knowledge that addresses physical, attitudinal, and environmental barriers to the leisure lifestyle of people with disabilities in inclusive leisure settings. However, little is known about the meaning of disability, the social contexts in which those meanings occur, and how those meanings influence inclusion, specifically for youth with and without disabilities. This study was undertaken to explore the meaning of disability expressed bysouth with and without disabilities in social contexts, particularly leisure contexts. Using qualitative methodology, a sample of middle and high school students who had been participants in Paralympic Day in the Schools (PDIS) program were selected to be interviewed to ascertain the perceptions of youth with and without disabilities.The initial study by Wilhite, Devine, & Goldenberg (1999) with these research participants yielded several examples that supported the notion of disability as a social construct. Those examples raised questions about the role of the social construction of disability in influencing the interactions between youth with and without disabilities in various inclusive contexts, including leisure. Thus, a second analysis ofthe data was undertaken using analytic induction and a social construction foundation. Results revealed phenomena that suggested that the notion of disability held positive and negative meanings for youth with and without disabilities, depending on the social context. For example, the meaning of disability in social contexts where there was competition (e.g., active recreation activities) appeared to take on a negative connotation as opposed to social contexts where there was no obvious competition (e.g., family gatherings). Two hypotheses were formed to generalize the meanings of disability and social contexts under which the meanings were present. Two social contexts (i.e., familiarity and matched abilities) emerged as being conditions when positive meanings of disability were always present. Negative meanings of disability were always present in three different social contexts, namely, casual contact, unmatched abilities, and inaccessible environments. In addition, behaviors, objects, and language were identified across contexts as ways to express the meaning of disability.Positive meanings of disability can be promoted by leisure service professionals by promoting social acceptance and offering leisure options that showcase the abilities of youth with disabilities. Recommendations to leisure service professionals to address negative meanings of disability include promoting personal contact, considering the differing abilities, and modeling behavior that reflects acceptance between youth with and without disabilities.





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