Disability is not only a biological issue, it is an inherently social one. People are only as disabled as their society allows them to be. Enhancing our understanding of the social processes affecting the disabled will allow for their increased participation within society. The researcher employed qualitative methods including semi-structured interviews and participant observation to perform case studies at fieldwork sites providing care to the disabled in Chicago, IL, USA and Santarém, Pará, Brazil. The researcher spent two consecutive weeks in each location. The former location is a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities and the latter is a school for people with mental and physical disabilities. The results showed that cultural phenomena such as social inequalities, gender roles, and intolerance for difference affected the experience of those living with disabilities. Social inequalities account for many disabilities found in Brazil such as those caused by preventable infectious diseases or by inadequate living conditions. The results suggest that the greatest obstacle for the disabled is the strained social interaction they have with the able-bodied. The prevalence of stigma against the disabled is a product of human discomfort with liminality and ambiguous status. People with disabilities are viewed as not fully human. Exposure and increased education, especially among children, can reduce discrimination allow people with disabilities to function within society and develop an identity therein.


Kathryn Elliott

Committee Member

Paul Brown

Committee Member

Dennis Gates

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)




Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License