Master of Science
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
The purpose of this study was to critically examine the ways that dominant discourses surrounding childhood disability, as constructed in the neoliberal context, shape knowledge and practice in children’s rehabilitation. I carried out a critical discourse analysis of text within the rehabilitation sciences, including peer-reviewed research, websites, and qualitative interview transcripts. Drawing on disability studies scholarship as well as my Foucauldian conceptual framework, I called attention to complex interactions between discourse, power, and knowledge that shape thought and action in the rehabilitation sciences. My findings suggest that despite a growing recognition of the harms associated with deficit-based understandings of disability, reformulation will require a considerable disruption of the durable neoliberal assumptions which ground contemporary Western society. This work adds to a growing body of literature which advocates for alternative, affirmative understandings of childhood disability through interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly between disability studies and the rehabilitation sciences.
Summary for Lay Audience
In this study I critically examined the ways that dominant discourses, or pervasive ways of thinking and acting, surrounding childhood disability shape knowledge and practice in children’s rehabilitation. To this end, I carried out a critical discourse analysis of text within the rehabilitation sciences by examining peer-reviewed research articles, websites of children’s rehabilitation institutions, as well as qualitative interview transcripts. In this study I drew on disability studies scholarship as well as a conceptual framework informed by social theorist Michel Foucault to better understand the ways that power, discourse, and knowledge interact, shaping thought and action within children’s rehabilitation. My findings suggested that there is a growing recognition of the harms associated with dominant deficit-based discourses of childhood disability which position disabled children as lacking in some capacity. With that said, current conceptualizations of childhood disability remain entrenched in neoliberal assumptions which value independence, self-sufficiency, and normalcy, and which inadvertently frame disabled children as ‘in need’. This work contributes to a growing body of literature which calls for interdisciplinary collaboration between disability studies and the rehabilitation sciences, as well as for the promotion of alternative, affirmative understandings of childhood disability.
Cox, Emily J., "Reframing Childhood Disability: Pushing Boundaries in the Rehabilitation Sciences" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8775.
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