Conceptualizing disability in nursing: Some evidence from students and their teachers

Philip A. Scullion

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37 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on part of a larger study which examined the nature and influence of a pre-registration nursing curriculum on the preparation of student nurses to work with disabled people. Following case study methodology it focuses on how 'disability' is conceptualized by teachers and adult branch students involved in a particular curriculum. Definitions and working assumptions concerning disability held by nurses are likely to influence ways in which disabled people are cared for. The experiences of disabled people suggest that their contact with nurses is demeaning and disempowering. Some disabled people support a reconceptualization of 'disability', from a largely medical perspective to one which embraces its social dimensions. The results of thematic analysis of data from 16 semi-structured interviews are reported; these support the need for the social dimensions of disability to be given greater emphasis within nursing. Disability was found to be conceptualized as a form of deviation, a condition of dependency or a notion which defies definition. Language associated with disability was also highlighted as an area of concern. Implications for practice and education are alluded to in the light of increasing recognition of disability as an equality opportunity issue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-657
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1999


  • Dependence
  • Deviation
  • Disability
  • Equal opportunity
  • Equality
  • Nursing education
  • Qualitative interviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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