Understanding Disability Belief Systems: Family Perspectives and Impact

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Zuna N.
Family & Disability Issues

The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Special Education, Austin, USA

All authors:

Nina Zuna, Meredith Brinster

(Family) Quality of Life
Disability Belief Systems


Little is known about disability belief systems from families’ perspectives and how it impacts their actions, family interactions, and well-being.   Data from five focus groups on family quality of life were analyzed to extract themes on disability awareness and disability belief systems.


Five focus groups were conducted with a total of twenty-four families of children with autism and I/DD.  The focus groups were conducted on the topic of family quality of life.  Grounded theory was the methodological procedure.  Analysis included the constant comparison method to compare data against data and across transcripts.  An inductive analytic approach was used in which data was organized/coded to develop overall themes.


The overall themes are:

  • Disability beliefs: Society and Community
  • Disability beliefs: School
  • Disability beliefs: Informal Networks
  • Disability beliefs:  Family Systems


Two important key recommendations from this research are to provide opportunities for professionals to evaluate their own belief systems about disability and listen intently to families’ belief systems to understand how it might impact the provision of services and supports.  Professionals also need to understand how partnerships with families can be highly emotional; they should frequently take time to reflect to ensure they understand the family’s perspective. More attention needs to be directed to the study of the impact of disability belief systems in family-professional partnerships and in the training of disability professionals.