Disabled students in higher education: Discourses of disability and the negotiation of identity

Sheila Riddell, Elisabet Weedon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


University is a critical arena for young disabled people in the construction of an adult identity and in obtaining higher level qualifications which have a major impact on future labour market opportunities. In Scotland, statistics show that there has been a steady increase in the proportion of students who are disabled. However, adopting the identity of a disabled person at university is far from straightforward, in part because of the conflicting discourses surrounding disability which are encountered. This article draws on data from a project on the experiences and outcomes of disabled students in UK universities, focusing on a case study of a particular student undertaking a Bachelor of Education degree in an elite Scottish university. The article illustrates the way in which positive and negative discourses of disability, reflected in learning, teaching and assessment practices and work placement experiences, impact on the identity of the student. The article also illustrates the importance of the social context in which disability is experienced. Whilst the student chooses to adopt the identity of disabled person during her time at university, this identity is rejected when she moves into the workplace. This is because the benefits of being identified as a disabled person at university outweigh the negative aspects, whilst in the post-university environment the reverse is the case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38–46
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Research
Early online date6 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Disabled students
  • Social justice
  • Identity
  • Higher education


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