Negotiating identity: A qualitative analysis of stigma and support seeking for individuals with cerebral palsy

Stuart A. Read*, Thomas A. Morton, Michelle K. Ryan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
176 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: The current research investigates how adults with cerebral palsy construct their personal and social identities in the face of stigma when support seeking, and considers the dilemmas they might face when doing so. Method: Participants were 28 adults with cerebral palsy who completed an online survey reporting on their identity as a person with cerebral palsy and their experiences of stigma when seeking and accessing support. Results: Qualitative analyses indicated that the majority of participants sought support to help manage their cerebral palsy. Of these, half reported experiencing stigma in these environments, although they largely continued seeking support despite this. The majority viewed both their personal identity (i.e. as a unique individual) and their social identity (i.e. as a person with cerebral palsy) as important to their sense of self. However, how participants constructed their identity also appeared to vary according to context. While they appeared to value being seen as an individual to receive support that was unique to their needs (their personal identity), they also reported valuing the group to facilitate coping with stigma (their social identity). Yet, despite their utilities, enacting their identity in each of these ways was associated with costs. In order to access desired support, they had to incorporate their social identity as similar to other disabled people, which led to stigmatization through feelings of difference to the non-disabled. Conversely emphasizing individuality and difference from the disabled stereotype was associated with concerns about the degree to which their suitability for support might be questioned by their care provider. Conclusions: As has been observed in many fields, stigma can complicate identity. In this domain, people with cerebral palsy face a number of threats in how they construe their identity, both in navigating stigma and maintaining access to needed support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1162-1169
Number of pages8
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jun-2015


  • Cerebral palsy
  • identity
  • stigma
  • support


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