Disability identity development model: Voices from the ADA-generation

Anjali J. Forber-Pratt, Ph.D., Marianne P. Zape, B.A.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 10Issue 2p350–355

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2016.12.013



For persons with disabilities, 2015 was a historic year, marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is important to consider the effects of this fundamental shift towards equal opportunity and participation on persons with disabilities’ identity development. In practice, however, there are few empirical studies that have looked at this phenomenon and even fewer models of disability identity development.


We conducted a qualitative study to explore the disability identity development of college students with disabilities.


At two research sites, we conducted individual interviews and observations with 17 college students with varying disabilities, and used in vivo and structural coding analysis to identify and develop themes.


The results of this study led to establishing a model of psychosocial identity development for individuals with disabilities. The model highlights four developmental statuses: acceptance, relationship, adoption and engagement. Sharing voices from the participants themselves, we also provide commentary on the possible impacts of this work for healthcare professionals and areas for future research.


Our findings suggest that this model of psychosocial disability identity development can help to provide an understanding of the psychological processes that individuals with disabilities go through. The model also has application as a framework for healthcare professionals and psychologists who are working with individuals with disabilities.