Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne M. Hedstrom

Second Advisor

Dr. Mary Z. Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Karen R. Blaisure

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen


Representations of disability in American culture are saturated with negative images and meanings. Pervasive negativity threatens full societal membership and its related benefits of a sense of belonging, connectedness, and inclusion, and a source of identity, social networks and empowerment for people with disabilities.

Disability pride is a resistant movement that seeks to denaturalize assumptions about the negative experience of disability. The multicultural turn in counseling recognizes that competent practice requires awareness of diverse groups in society. Disability as the largest minority group in the U.S. requires counselor awareness. This study examined the representation of disability in a sample of popular counselor education textbooks. The study asked what can be known from textual representations of disability and what different ways of knowing about disability are possible. The methodology is grounded in social constructionism, feminism, and critical theory using subjectivity, power, social organization, and language as tools to analyze disability as a sociopolitical category. The analysis sought to expose the assumptions underlying representations of disability and to contribute to a deeper understanding of how disability and ability operate in the culture.

Comparisons revealed disparities between textbook representations of disability compared with espoused values, representations of other nondominant groups, and self-representations from literature written by people with disabilities. Many representations maintained rather than resisted the culturally embedded negativity that puts membership in the broader community at risk for people with disabilities. Missing are the views of people with disabilities who offer an alternative positive perspective. The analysis suggests that negativity is maintained by depictions of disability as unidimensional, totalizing, static, and inferior. An alternative perspective suggests disability is multidimensional, one of many characteristics, dynamic, and different. Recommendations for counselor development suggest that understanding disability-as-difference requires reconceptualization of disability/ability as a false dichotomy and recontextualization to primatize sociopolitical environmental factors. The textbook representations of disability deny readers awareness o f the contribution of people with disabilities as resources of experience, knowledge, and creativity about the real body that is part of everybody’s embodied identity and autobiography.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access