College Students With Disabilities Redefine Activism: Self-Advocacy, Storytelling, and Collective Action

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Abstract

Despite rapid growth in the numbers of students with disabilities enrolling in higher education, there is limited research about their experiences in colleges and universities, and information about their collegiate activism is even more limited. Through a constructivist grounded theory study of 59 college students and recent graduates, we demonstrate the connection between activism and purpose in the lives of students with disabilities. Our findings suggest advocacy skills and activist tendencies were socialized early in life by parental role models. College students with disabilities drew upon foundational self-advocacy skills to engage in a variety of forms of disability activism during college including doing, role modeling, and teaching self-advocacy; reducing stigma through education and storytelling; and collective action. College students also engaged in activism on issues other than disability. Narratives from students with disabilities demonstrate a need to rethink traditional notions of activism in order to develop broader and more accurate definitions of college activism.

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