Exploring disabled young people's experiences of emerging adulthood using photovoice and other participatory, creative methods.

  • Mair Hewitt-Stubbs

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


Our lives are characterised by transitions and arguably the most “complex and far-reaching” (Heslop et al., 2002, p.2) of these is the transition to adulthood. This is especially true for disabled young people, who face additional challenges. Despite an abundance of research, legislation and guidance on how to negotiate successful transitions, support continues to fall short of expectation. Arguably, current approaches promote normative, linear developmental trajectories and outcomes for ‘successful’ adulthood. These fail to take account of potential differences relating to the experience of being disabled.

The aim of this study was to explore disabled young people’s conceptualisations and experiences of emerging adulthood and the opportunities and support needs they identified as important in preparation for transition. Given that little previous literature has attended to the gendered experiences of disabled young people, this study was also interested in the potential role of gender in shaping their experiences and future aspirations.

Six disabled young men and women aged 18-25, attending a specialist, residential college took part in this qualitative study which used photovoice and other participatory, creative methods to elicit their views. Thematic analysis of the data generated several themes and subthemes. Participants described emerging adulthood as a journey characterised by change and progression and highlighted the importance of this period for identity exploration and purpose-seeking. Although driven to become increasingly independent in many areas, participants valued ongoing support from others and the interdependent nature of these relationships. Participant’s accounts indicated an acceleration towards adulthood however, in contrast to the literature, they perceived this positively. Findings also revealed significant differences between the disabled young men and women, which were not being routinely acknowledged or discussed during transition planning. Finally, participants identified several key areas for support, including practical and social skill-building, fostering of resilience and person-centred planning.

There are implications for professionals, including Educational Psychologists, in relation to providing support to this group that is not based on normative assumptions of adulthood but recognises the heterogeneity of their experiences and aspirations. A framework, based on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems model, is put forward to guide collaborative conversations and co-construction of goals that are meaningful to each disabled young person.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorDavid W F Abbott (Supervisor) & Jak L Lee (Supervisor)


  • Emerging adulthood
  • Disability
  • Photovoice
  • Transition
  • Experiences
  • Young people

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