Exploring the lived experiences of adults with physical disability: Experiences of a researcher

Ritu Singh, Geeta Chopra


More often the research in the disability domain is dominated by the quantitative approaches thus giving primacy to the biomedical lens and neglecting the experiential accounts of the individuals having disability. Of late, qualitative research methods aiming at subjective insights is gaining grounds in the disability research but conducting it with vulnerable group isn’t an easy task. This article is born out of experiences of undertaking a PhD study that focuses on the voices of adults with physical disability in the age bracket 21-35 years by listening to their stories; it is assumed that listening to the voices would bring a shift in the dominant discourse of ableist society that views people with disabilities as passive beings. The study explores their experiences of living with a physical disability. The opening paragraph of the article outlines the role of qualitative research in making people with disabilities visible, followed by why the voices and stories of these individuals matter. However, the main focus of this article is to share the methodological challenges encountered while being in the field and how the researcher has navigated the process of collecting life stories of adults with physical disability. This paper relies heavily on field reflections of the Ph.D. work.


People with disabilities, qualitative research, voices, life story, field reflections.

Full Text:




Atkinson, R. (1998). The life story interview: Qualitative research methods. London: Sage.

Barnes, C. (1992b). ‘Qualitative Research: Valuable or irrelevant?' Disability,Handicap & Society,7(2), 115 - 124.

Beazley, S., Moore, M. &Benzie, D. (1997)' Involving Disabled People in Research: A study of inclusion in environmental activities' In Barnes, C. & Mercer, G. (Eds.), Doing Disability Research. Leeds: The Disability Press.

Becker, H., Roberts, G., Morrison, J., Silver, J., &Taub, S. (2004). Recruiting people with disabilities as research participants: challenges and strategies to address them. Mental Retardation, 42(6), 471-475.

Bell, K. R., Hammond, F., Hart, T., Bickett, A. K., Temkin, N. R., & Dikmen, S. (2008). Participant recruitment and retention in rehabilitation research. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 87(4), 330-338.

Biklen, D. (1988). The myth of clinical judgment. Journal of Social Issues, 44(1), 127-140.

Biklen, D. & Duchan, J. (1994). "I am intelligent.": The social construction of mental Retardation. The Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities,19(3), 173-184.

Bigby, C., Frawley, P., &Ramcharan, P. (2014).Conceptualizing inclusive research with people with intellectual disability. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 27(1). doi:10.1111/jar.12083.

Blatt, B. (1981). How to destroy lives by telling stories. Journal of Psychiatric Treatment and Evaluation, 3, 183-191.

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic lnteractionism. Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bogdan , R. & Taylor, S. (1994). The Social Meaning of Mental Retardation: Two Life Stories. New York City: Teacher's College Press.

Booth, T., and W. Booth. 1996. Sounds of silence: Narrative research with inarticulate subjects. Disability and Society, 11(1), 55–69.

Britzman D. (1989). Who has the floor? Curriculum, teaching and the English student teacher's struggle for voice. Curriculum Inquiry, 19(2), 143-162.

Carey, E., & Griffiths, C. (2017). Recruitment and consent of adults with intellectual disabilities in a classic grounded theory research study: Ethical and methodological considerations. Disability & Society, 32(2). doi:10.1080/09687599.2017.1281793.

Carlsson, E., Peterson, B.L., Scott-Findlay, S., Ehnfors, M. & Ehrenberg, A. (2007). Methodological issues in interviews involving people with communication impairments acquired after brain damage. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1361-1371.

Chataika, T. (2005, April 15). Narrative Research: What’s in a Story? Paper presented at 8th Nordic Network for Disability Research Conference, Norway, Oslo.

Chataika, T., McKenzie, J., Swart, E. & Lyner-Cleophas. (2012). Access to education in Africa: responding to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Disability and Society, 27, 385-398.

Denzin, N. K. (2017). Critical qualitative inquiry. Qualitative Inquiry, 23(1), 8-16. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800416681864.

Duran, B., Wallerstein, N., Minkler, M., & Foley, K. (2012). Developing and maintaining partnerships with communities. In B. A. Israel, E. Eng, A. Schulz, & E. Parker (Eds.), Methods for Community-Based Participatory research for Health (pp. 43-68). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Ellard-Gray, A., Jeffrey, N. K., Choubak, M., &Crann, S. E. (2015).Finding the hidden participant: solutions for recruiting hidden, hard-to-reach, and vulnerable populations. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 14(5).

Finkelflugel H. Rehabilitation research in Southern Africa.In Research informed rehabilitation planning in Southern Africa. Proceedings of a workshop in Zimbabwe.EU. 1998.

Kliewer, C. (1998). Schooling children with Down syndrome: Toward an understanding of possibility. New York: Teacher's College Press.

Kliewer, C. & Biklen, D. (1996). Labeling: Who wants to be called retarded? In Stainback & Stainback (Eds.) Controversial issues confronting special education. (pp.83 — 95). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Kothari, U. & D. Hulme. 2003. 'Narratives, stories and tales: Understanding poverty dynamics through life history,' Paper presented to the Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, Manchester, 2003. http://www.gprg.org/pubs/workingpapers/pdfs/gprg-wps-0 1 1 .pdf (Accessed on 10 December 20

Kroll, T., Barbour, R., & Harris, J. (2007).Using focus groups in disability research.Qualitative Health Research, 17(5), 690-698. doi:10.1177/1049732307301488.

Lennox, N., Taylor, M., Rey-Conde, T., Bain, C., Purdie, D. M., & Boyle, F. (2005).Beating the barriers: recruitment of people with intellectual disability to participate in research. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49(4), 296-305. doi:10.1111/j.13652788.2005.00618.x.

Lloyd, V., Gatherer, A. &Kalsy, S. (2006). Conducting qualitative interview research with people with expressive language difficulties.Qualitative Health Research, 16(10), 1386-1404.

Magasi, S. (2012).Negotiating the social service systems: A vital yet frequently invisible occupation.OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 32(1), 25-33. doi:10.3928/15394492-20110906-03.

Magasi, S., & Hammel, J. (2009). Women with disabilities' experiences in long-term care: a case for social justice. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(1).

Mani, M. N. 2002. 'Integrated education for disabled children: cost effective approaches,' In S. Hegarthy& M. Alur (eds.), Education and children with special needs: from segregation to inclusion.

McCallum, B., E. Hargreaves & C. Gipps. 2000. 'Learning the pupil's voice' Cambridge Journal of Education,30(2),275-289.

Mehrotra, N. 2004. 'Women, Disability and Social Support in Rural Haryana' Economic and Political Weekly, 39(52), 5640-5644.

Meininger, H. (2006). Narrating, writing, reading: life story work as an aid to (self) advocacy. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 34, 181-188.

Mercer, G. (2002), 'Re-viewing Disability Research', in Barnes, C., Oliver, M. and Barton, L. (eds.), Disability Studies Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Minichiello, V., R. Aroni, E. Timewell, and L. Alexander. 1995. In-depth interviewing: Principles, techniques, analysis. (2nd ed.) Melbourne, Australia: Longman.

Mitchell R. (1999). The research base of community-based rehabilitation.Disability and Rehabiliation, 21(10-11) 459- 468.

Mishra, A., & G. Kumar. 2009. 'Evaluation of inclusive education practices in SarvShikshaAbhiyan Primary Schools.,' Journal of Indian Education,34(4), 125 138.

Oliver, M. (1990). The politics of disablement: a sociological approach. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Oliver, M. (1992a). ‘Changing the Social Relations of Research Production?' Disability. Handicap & Society 7(2), 101 - 114.

Priestley, M. 1999. 'Who's research? A personal audit, In C. Barnes and G. Mercer (eds.), Doing disability research. Leeds, UK: The Disability Press: 88-107.

Sharma, N. (2010). 'Education of Children with Disabilities: Reflections on Best Practices to assimilate Children in the Mainstream,' In A. Sidhu, N. Sharma, P. Sundaraj, V. Kapur, & S. Guglani (eds.), The Social Ecology of Disability, Lady Irwin College: Technical Issue 3:124-149. New Delhi: Academic Excellence.

Spradley, JP. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Disability Enable. (2015). Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/about-us/sustainable-development-goals-sdgs-and-disability.html

Swain, J., French, S. and Cameron, C. (2003) Controversial issues in a disabling society. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Wang. C. C., & Geale, S. (2016). The power of story: Narrative inquiry as a methodology in nursing research. International Journal of Nursing Sciences, 2(1), 195-198.

Walmsley, J., and K. Johnson. 2003. Inclusive research with people with learning disabilities. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Whyte, J. (2005). Research with children with disabilities: guide for good practices and checklist. Dublin

Wirz S. (1996). Where should research into community based rehab be directed in the next ten years? Action aid Disability News, 7(1).


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ISSN: 2454-6623