Original Research

Representation and methods of normalisation: Narratives of disability within a South African tertiary institution

Taegan Devar, Shaida Bobat, Shanya Reuben
African Journal of Disability | Vol 9 | a629 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v9i0.629 | © 2020 Taegan Devar, Shaida Bobat, Shanya Reuben | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 April 2019 | Published: 23 July 2020

About the author(s)

Taegan Devar, People Smart Consulting, Durban, South Africa
Shaida Bobat, School of Applied Human Sciences, Discipline of Psychology, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa
Shanya Reuben, School of Applied Human Sciences, Discipline of Psychology, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background: The manner in which disability is understood influences how individuals within a society, its institutions, policies and structures are able to accommodate and support people with disabilities (PWD) (Kaplan 2000). Understanding how students with disabilities (SWD) within a higher education context perceive and experience disability as well as how key players, namely, lecturers and disability unit (DU) staff, who influence that experience, is important in further shaping policy and providing a truly inclusive environment for all within HEIs.

Objectives: The study aimed to examine the narratives of disability among SWD, lecturers and the DU within a tertiary institution, with a view to better understand their experiences and required initiatives to address the challenges of disability within a higher tertiary institution.

Method: The study drew on three theoretical frameworks: social constructionism, feminist disability theory and the Foucauldian perspective. Data for the study were collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 SWD, seven members of staff from the institution’s DU and five lecturers from within the School of Applied Human Sciences. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: The findings suggested that in spite of both facilitating and positive representations of disability, the dominant representation of disability was perceived as challenging and as a result, disempowering. Students with disabilities were found to adapt, and consequently modify their behaviour by disassociating from their disability in order to fit in.

Conclusion: The study highlights the need for creating spaces and engagement within an HEI context that both challenge negative discourses of disability, and at the same time, promote positive representations of disability.


SWD; normalisation; narratives; social constructionism; higher education institutions


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