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"Doing Disability: Disability Formations in the Context of Work"
Unformatted Document Text:  Disability Formations While working or searching for work disability identities are shaped in a number of different ways. Disability identities vary and are shaped by aspects of the medical, minority, and social models of disability. Oftentimes people seek medical legitimation for their conditions, decry the barriers imposed on them by their environment, and seek equal protections which will allow them to find work. Understandings of disability are nuanced, with people occasionally resisting labels put on them, and other times self-identifying themselves as disabled to provide protections from other unwanted stigmas. Below we show how the understandings of disability are grounded in the medical, minority, and social-constructivist perspectives. Medical Model: A Blurring of Perspectives As expected, a large number of focus group participants equated their disability with their medical impairment. When asked to discuss issues around “disability” medical conditions or impairments were often viewed as synonymous with disability. People who were not working relied more heavily on medical understandings of disability than people who were currently employed. Notably, however, disability identities that were grounded in the medical model also relied on the social and minority models of disability. Some people specifically described how their disability identity was influenced by both their medical condition and their movement through employment agencies in their search for work. This finding highlights the process of disability formation in the context of work, where disability status is continually negotiated through interactions with individuals and employment organizations. Lily described how she was born “disabled” but was further labeled as such through her interactions with Vocational Rehabilitation: I'm Lily Smith, and I have been disabled since birth. Right now I have a learning disability also, which I found out when I was 42, but I always knew. But through Voc Rehab, I was diagnosed finally, because I had one of the few Voc Rehab counselors that--Because he was a teacher, he spotted it right away. While she “always knew” she had a difficult time “learning,” she seemed especially relieved to know that her VR counselor was able to label her condition as a disability. Lily’s learning disability became legitimate only after it was labeled as a possible barrier in her search for work. Her disability identity evolved as she encountered employment agencies which assessed the jobs she is most suited for. In this instance, Lily seemed comforted by having her learning impairment classified as a medical problem. For Lily, being diagnosed as learning disabled seemed to provide her with a partial explanation for her difficulties in obtaining employment. For most people, being labeled as “disabled” by an employment agency was not something unexpected, but it marked an important point in the creation of a disability identity. Like Lily, Louis’s identification as “disabled” was influenced by his experiences struggling to maintain employment. Louis equates his disability to something he has had since childhood, and to a point in time when he became “too disabled to work.” Louis’s introduction at a focus group conflated his disability with his first receipt of SSDI benefits: I'm Louis Smith. I've been disabled since '94. Or been on Disability (SSDI) since '94, but my disability's been there with me since childhood, but I masked it and just covered it over and dealt with it and kept on 7

Authors: Brown, Keith., Hamner, Doris., Foley, Susan. and Woodring, Jonathan.
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Disability Formations
While working or searching for work disability identities are shaped in a number
of different ways. Disability identities vary and are shaped by aspects of the medical,
minority, and social models of disability. Oftentimes people seek medical legitimation
for their conditions, decry the barriers imposed on them by their environment, and seek
equal protections which will allow them to find work. Understandings of disability are
nuanced, with people occasionally resisting labels put on them, and other times self-
identifying themselves as disabled to provide protections from other unwanted stigmas.
Below we show how the understandings of disability are grounded in the medical,
minority, and social-constructivist perspectives.
Medical Model: A Blurring of Perspectives
As expected, a large number of focus group participants equated their disability
with their medical impairment. When asked to discuss issues around “disability” medical
conditions or impairments were often viewed as synonymous with disability. People who
were not working relied more heavily on medical understandings of disability than people
who were currently employed. Notably, however, disability identities that were grounded
in the medical model also relied on the social and minority models of disability. Some
people specifically described how their disability identity was influenced by both their
medical condition and their movement through employment agencies in their search for
work. This finding highlights the process of disability formation in the context of work,
where disability status is continually negotiated through interactions with individuals and
employment organizations. Lily described how she was born “disabled” but was further
labeled as such through her interactions with Vocational Rehabilitation:
I'm Lily Smith, and I have been disabled since birth. Right now I have a
learning disability also, which I found out when I was 42, but I always
knew. But through Voc Rehab, I was diagnosed finally, because I had one
of the few Voc Rehab counselors that--Because he was a teacher, he
spotted it right away.
While she “always knew” she had a difficult time “learning,” she seemed especially
relieved to know that her VR counselor was able to label her condition as a disability.
Lily’s learning disability became legitimate only after it was labeled as a possible barrier
in her search for work. Her disability identity evolved as she encountered employment
agencies which assessed the jobs she is most suited for. In this instance, Lily seemed
comforted by having her learning impairment classified as a medical problem. For Lily,
being diagnosed as learning disabled seemed to provide her with a partial explanation for
her difficulties in obtaining employment.
For most people, being labeled as “disabled” by an employment agency was not
something unexpected, but it marked an important point in the creation of a disability
identity. Like Lily, Louis’s identification as “disabled” was influenced by his experiences
struggling to maintain employment. Louis equates his disability to something he has had
since childhood, and to a point in time when he became “too disabled to work.” Louis’s
introduction at a focus group conflated his disability with his first receipt of SSDI
benefits:
I'm Louis Smith. I've been disabled since '94. Or been on Disability
(SSDI) since '94, but my disability's been there with me since childhood,
but I masked it and just covered it over and dealt with it and kept on
7


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