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Disability, Hope, Intellectual and developmental disability, Social change, Strengths and hope perspective, Strengths perspective


I. Carter


V. Paraschak




Objective: The overarching purpose of this dissertation was to understand the potential to stimulate social change through exposure to strengths-based contexts where people with disabilities displayed their skills. Through the intentional dismissal of a traditional, deficits-based approach to disability-related research, this dissertation highlighted the strengths of people with impairment as a means to resist disabling assumptions. As such, the actions of people with disability within these studies exist outside of imaginable possibilities produced by dominant social structures, and possess the capacity to shape the social world. By examining the impact of exposure to these three contexts, this dissertation sought to understand the processes and outcomes related to stimulating social change as it pertains to movement toward a shared, preferred future of inclusion and equality.

Methods: Based within a social constructionist epistemology, this dissertation is situated within a Strengths and Hope perspective underpinned by a duality of structure framework. Each study examined a context where the strengths of people with disability were displayed, including an Adapted Physical Exercise (APEX) program, competitive employment, and the Paralympic Games. Chapters 2 and 3 included semi-structured interviews with fitness trainers and bystanders of the APEX program, as well as employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their employers, and co-workers. Thematic analysis focused on the processes that were apparent within these strengths-based contexts that cultivated the potential for social change. Chapter 4, focused on outcomes, utilized a quasi-experimental design to assess attitudes toward disability following exposure to people with impairment displaying their strengths at the Paralympic Games. Over a 12-day intervention, 135 university students were assigned daily viewing of one condition: (1) Paralympic media coverage, (2) Olympic media coverage, or (3) no media coverage. Repeated measures profile analysis with a doubly multivariate design was completed on data from the Attitudes to Disability Scale.

Results: People with disability demonstrating their strengths may yield opportunity for social change. Specifically, preconditions necessary for the cultivation of hope, including availability, hospitality, communion, and an orientation toward the future were identified within the APEX program. Given the essential role of hope in determining one’s capacity to be open to (co)transformation, evoking related practices within this environment was recognized as a necessary process to stimulate social change. Supporting the presence of hope within strengths-based contexts, associated behaviours were recognized within the workplace, such as the co-sharing of strengths, movement toward a shared preferred future, alignment of collective and personal goals, and the possibility for co-transformation. However, viewing strengths of people with disability at the Paralympic Games did not impact attitudes toward disability, indicating an insufficient method of altering specific outcome measures.

Conclusion: Cultivating hope within strengths-based contexts may be an important component of stimulating social change by fostering openness to being (co)transformed. As such, disability-related programs and services are encouraged to adopt a strengths-based approach while evoking hope to assist in the attainment of a shared, preferred future of inclusion and equality for people with disability.