The paradox of the perfect physiotherapist
: the integration of disabled students into the physiotherapy profession

  • Joanne Opie

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The corpus of literature about disabled therapists within physiotherapy omits one important factor: the experiences of disabled physiotherapy students. Therefore, this research aimed to fill this gap by exploring the integration of disabled students into the physiotherapy profession. This participatory research sought to investigate the phenomenon from multiple perspectives to incorporate the voice of disabled students, an analysis of the policies which regulate the profession, and the opinions of representatives from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Health and Care Professions Council.

In stage one of the project ten disabled physiotherapy students were recruited. These students completed narrative interviews and Kawa drawings to document their experiences. Stage two explored the available information for prospective disabled students by conducting an internet survey. Finally in stage three, the policies of the Health and Care Professions Council and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy were examined for ableist language and then two representatives from each organisation were interviewed about the integration of disabled students. The data collected were analysed by critical narrative analysis with the student participants contributing to the generation of categories and themes. Further analysis was conducted using Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice and the SEAwall model of discrimination.

My research has identified two paradoxes that affect the integration of disabled students. Firstly, the paradox of the perfect physiotherapist, applied via a narrow physiotherapy corporeal standard, which particularly limits access for people with physical impairments. Secondly, the paradox of supporting students whilst maintaining qualification standards. Again this limits access for disabled students, particularly when fitness to practise standards are applied during the admission process. These competing imperatives create a dilemma for disabled students around disclosing their disability status. This dilemma will only be solved by reducing discrimination at all levels of the system. However, in order to achieve this change, disabled physiotherapists and students will need to adopt a more affirmative orientation to disability to act as facilitators of change within the profession.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University


  • physiotherapy
  • students with disabilities
  • disability

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