Rings, Jeffrey A.

Committee Member

Wright, Stephen

Committee Member

Woody, William

Committee Member

Bezyak, Jill


College of Education and Behavioral Sciences; Department of Applied Psychology and Counselor Education, Program of Counseling Psychology


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



177 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


The purpose of this study was to investigate disability identity and the role that it may play in moderating the effect of disability-related stigma on both quality of life and psychological distress among persons with disabilities (PWDs). With respect to this purpose, it was hypothesized that disability identity would significantly moderate both the relationship between disability-related stigma and quality of life and the relationship between disability-related stigma and psychological distress. Further, this study aimed to investigate various aspects specific to one's life experience that may impact the presence or absence of disability identity. To this regard, it was hypothesized that aspects related to the experience of one’s disability including, the obviousness of one’s disability, the functional impact of one’s disability, and the onset of one’s disability each would be a significant predictor of one’s strength of disability identity. Participants were recruited through convenience sampling from a regional Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Center for PWDs living in the Rocky Mountain region. In sum, a total of 873 adults with disabilities completed a brief demographics questionnaire in addition to measures of disability identity, disability related stigma, quality of life, and psychological distress. After survey completion, data were compiled and analyzed using a hierarchical multiple regression analysis. The results of this study indicated that the presence of disability identity significantly moderated the negative impact of disability-related stigma on a PWD’s quality of life. In other words, the presence of a positive disability identity was a protective factor leading to a higher quality of life among those impacted by disability-related stigma. However, the strength of one’s disability identity did not have a significant moderation effect on the relationship between disability-related stigma and psychological distress. Further, the results of this study also showed how a greater presence of disability identity was predicted by lower levels of functional impairment from one’s disability, less obviousness of one’s disability, and among those whose onset of disability was congenital rather than acquired later in life. Finally, other aspects of an individual's identity, including their gender, level of education, and current employment status, each significantly predicted the strength of disability identity, providing further context for future researchers to examine how certain intersectional aspects of one's identity impact their experience of disability. It is anticipated that future researchers and mental health clinicians can use the results of this research to help expand their understanding and considerations of disability as an aspect of human diversity rather than as a deficit that may only cause difficulties in one's life. In doing so, mental health practitioners may be better able to determine how an individual identifies with their disability and how this may or may not contribute to their overall presenting mental health concerns. These results may also help clinicians be better able to applicably select and adapt clinical interventions tailored for affirmation of one’s disability, promoting the development of a positive disability identity where appropriate. Overall, an increased understanding of the protective effect of disability identity should push clinicians to use more affirmative models of care and provide improved culturally informed services for PWDs.

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