Original Research

Transitioning to a life with disability in rural South Africa: A qualitative study

M. Christinah Sadiki, Brian Watermeyer, Nina T. Abrahams
African Journal of Disability | Vol 10 | a697 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v10i0.697 | © 2021 M. Christinah Sadiki, Brian Watermeyer, Nina T. Abrahams | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 December 2019 | Published: 22 July 2021

About the author(s)

M. Christinah Sadiki, Research Administration and Development, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, South Africa
Brian Watermeyer, Including Disability in Education in Africa (IDEA) Research Unit, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Division of Disability Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Nina T. Abrahams, Department of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: Adjustment to the onset of disability has complex reverberations relating to both socially engendered disadvantage and the realities of functional limitation. Pre-existing ways of understanding disability can meaningfully shape this experience.

Objective: This study aimed to provide an exploratory understanding of the experience of becoming disabled in a low-income, under-served, rural South African community. In particular, it was interested in how people with disabilities constructed their struggle within the conceptual split between disadvantage caused by ‘malfunctioning’ bodies (a ‘medical model’ view) and that caused by social organisation (a ‘social model’ view).

Methods: Seven people between the ages of 39 and 47 who had acquired a physical disability within the last 4 years were recruited in a rural area of Limpopo province, South Africa. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted, and the resulting data were thematically analysed. The authors were positioned as both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ to the participants and sought to use this orientation to best understand and stay faithful to participants’ views while simultaneously applying participant’s experiences to conceptual knowledge in disability studies.

Results: Four themes emerged: (1) emotional impact of onset of disability, (2) being introduced to disablist prejudice, (3) being required to take on a ‘disabled’ identity and (4) socio-economic implications of becoming disabled. The findings reflected a complex set of adverse experiences in the lives of the participants, spanning disadvantages based on embodied, cultural, relational and environmental factors, which were superimposed on existing, generalised poverty in their local communities. Participants made sense of their predicament in multiple, evolving ways.

Conclusion: This study contributes to the understanding of the complex predicaments, and sense-making, of persons who have acquired a disability in a rural, impoverished Global South environment.


disability; Global South; rural; qualitative; adjustment; social model; medical model


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