Families with children with impairment experience disadvantage, but this disadvantage is rarely examined from the point of view of the social model of disability. The purpose of this study is to investigate the experience of families with children with impairment using the social model as articulated by Carol Thomas (1999). Thomas describes disablism as the exclusionary practices and prejudices that limit the lives of people with impairment. She thus includes both material and non-material dimensions in her understanding of disablism. Her model also acknowledges the role of impairment in creating barriers in the lives of people with impairment.
In order to identify what impact disablism has on families, if any, in depth interviews were conducted on two occasions with twelve families with children with impairment. These interviews were informed by ecocultural theory and explored how families with children with impairment organise their everyday lives. The everyday activities of these families revealed the social structures, institutions and practices in which they are embedded.
This study found evidence of disabling material barriers in family life in the form of constraints on mothers participating in the paid workforce, reduced family income, restrictions in family leisure opportunities, and problematic interactions with services. That is, much of the disadvantage in family life for families with children with impairment was socially created, rather than an inevitable consequence of their child’s impairment. The results of the study also demonstrated that although families’ psycho-emotional wellbeing was not undermined in the same way that Thomas described for individual women with impairment, nevertheless prejudice experienced by families prevented them from participating in social life on an equal footing with their peers.
This study concludes therefore that disablism is not solely a phenomenon experienced by the individual with impairment; it is also part of the experience of family members of families with children with impairment. The thesis concludes by arguing the need for more appropriate social policy and practices that ensure that these families are not unfairly disadvantaged.