Disability and identity across the life course: The restricted growth experience

Sue Thompson, Tom Shakespeare, Michael J Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper seeks to examine some aspects of disability identity in the light of a recent research project which focused on medical, health and social dimensions of life as an adult with a skeletal dysplasia, a range of conditions causing restricted growth or dwarfism. We question the significance of a simple classification of people with impairments as ‘disabled’ by highlighting the discrepancies found in the extent to which respondents in the study identified themselves as disabled, and the difficulties many found in recognising themselves as ‘different’. In particular, we argue that disability identity should be understood as dynamic and changing over the life course, and suggest that major transition periods can act as crucial focal points when there may be a re-assessment of identity as ‘disabled’ or ‘different’. Overall, we evaluate disability identity in terms of the relationship between experiences of impairment – symptoms such as pain, numbness and reduced mobility – and experiences of affiliation – focusing on quality of life, barriers to inclusion and the attitudes of others. In so doing, we reveal the tensions between the drive to integrate and be considered on equal terms with the average-sized population, and more negative experiences of exclusion and dependency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-251
Number of pages15
JournalMedische Antropologie
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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