College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-22-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Midge Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Christopher Keys, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Douglas Cellar, Ph.D.


The degree to which individual members of social minority groups identify with their stigmatized ingroup vary—some closely identify whereas others distance themselves from it as a byproduct of stigmatization. Research findings are mixed in regard to whether group identity influences well-being. One reason is that the relationship may be obscured by other factors. This study sought to clarify the mechanism by which group minority identity relates to health through social support. To assess the linkages among the three variables, individuals with acquired physical disabilities were surveyed. The study of disability identity is of import because, first, it may predict health outcomes of individuals with disability and second, there is dire need for psychological research on individuals who have disabilities. Moreover, published research on the quantitative measurement of disability identity is non-existent. Theoretical assumptions made here were largely drawn from racial identity research. It was predicted that the relationship between disability identity and health would vary depending on the level of social support received. Seventy-nine individuals with acquired physical disability participated by completing a self-report survey on disability identity, social support, and health. Predictions were partially supported in that a moderation effect on health was found only for one dimension of disability identity and for disability-specific social support. Individuals who received high levels of support from others who have a disability and had positive regard towards the disability community tended to have healthier social functioning. No relationship was found between disability identity and social iii functioning for those with low social support. Findings have implications for practice, and may suggest that individuals function healthiest when the source of and desire for support are in alignment. The current study also extends theory on disability identity. The internal consistency of the disability identity scales used here were similar to the racial identity scales from which they were adapted, suggesting that they may be validly used for the population of those with acquired disabilities. In addition, findings reiterate the importance of social support specificity when evaluating its effects on health outcomes.