Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Urszula Strawinska-Zanko

Second Advisor

Dustin Berna

Third Advisor

Mary Hope Schwoebel


Americans with disabilities, communication, conflict resolution, critical disability theory, disability studies, public policy, social justice theory


The purpose of the dissertation is to examine the language used to discuss disability and the attitudes and perceptions that the general American public has about people living with disabilities. Using the transformative research and evaluation method, the content analysis study examines the use of “deficit perspective language” versus “non-deficit perspective language” as defined by Mertens in materials available to the general American public that address the five areas described in the World Health Organization matrix on community rehabilitation for people with disabilities. The mixed methods study explores both the frequency of deficit perspective language and the frequency non- deficit perspective language as well as the themes such language conveys to the general public. The research provides person centered perspectives addressing academic literature gaps relating to the topic of disability from a non-clinical perspective, using muted group theory, complexity theory, social justice theory and critical disability theory. From a conflict resolution perspective, the study aims to provide insight and ideas based on Mayer’s paradoxes as related to practitioners’ abilities to help fully integrate people with disabilities into their local communities. Using triangulation protocol designed for content analysis the study indicates the potential reasons for continued marginalization of disabled Americans.