Exploring Clothing as a Barrier to Workplace Participation Faced by People Living with Disabilities
1.1. Goals of PLWD’s Workplace Participation
RQ1: What are the goals/purposes of workplace participation expressed by PLWD?
1.2. Stigma Experienced by PLWD
1.3. PLWD’s Self-Efficacy
Role of Clothing in Stigma, Self-efficacy, and Workplace Participation
RQ2: What are the roles clothing plays in stigma, self-efficacy, and workplace participation among PLWD?
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Qualitative Inquiry
2.3. Data Collection
2.4. Data Analysis
3.1. Worklplace Participation Goals Are Varied
3.1.1. Work Defines Me
P9: Well, it’s changed, the reasons have changed, or new reasons have been added [reason for working]. Since I was injured, which was about 3 years ago, it was very important to me to try and do everything in my life that I’d done before. I wanted to see how much of it I could conquer and get back…I…decided that I wanted to see how productive I could be and reach my former levels of productivity prior to the injury. I had a 5-year plan to do that…my employment became important to me as a way for me to measure my ability to function in my old environment given my new disability.
P12: Because, especially someone with disabilities, it’s already hard to feel like a burden on others because you need to have people in your life that are…open and wanting to help you, but there’s still that underlying…feeling of being a burden. . . you want to work to feel like people need you…rather than simply completing duties.
P10: It [working] is important because I feel confident. Well, I used to feel more confident than I do now [she used to be a bank executive], but I could probably do something that would be worthwhile and give me some sense of self-worth. I always felt like my employment did that for me and made me feel good about myself and that I was helpful.
P4: It’s just…people with disabilities want to be out in the community. This idea of social capital, I did not understand that concept until I heard that from my director…and then as I’m seen in the community . . . I now understand that…and I started living it. People started noticing me and started seeing me different places, and then they’re like, “Oh that guy, he’s always out so…it must mean something and he doesn’t just stay home and do nothing.” …I feel I can participate and that I am a valued member.
3.1.2. Disability as the Barriers to Workplace Participation
P1: Honestly this isn’t as interesting as it was being in politics. It was a job I wanted to do since I was a little kid…so you are lucky if your dream as a kid was to be a fireman and you got to do that, most people never get to be what it is they wanted to be. So, that [politics] had a lot of personal meaning and interests because my life didn’t just revolve [around] disability questions and issues all the time. Now, I’m back in a rut, so to speak, talking about disability stuff all day and then I go home and live with it too. So, it’s [my current work] valuable but it’s not interesting.
P9: Probably…what’s hindering me now is my mobility, specifically on the research and funding side. I go and meet and interact with a lot of people, travel to potential funders at companies. Now everything takes a lot of planning and adjustments, more time and, from that perspective, I know I haven’t been able to become as productive, funding-wise, as I was before I was injured. I work in a lot of different industries, engineering consulting firms, contractors, construction, and typically that involves a lot of face-to-face meetings, and going to project construction sites is very difficult. The way I handle it now is I find a graduate student who can travel with me, and they are my eyes and legs because they can get around. They are good, but I feel a little bit left out because that is what I enjoy doing. So, that is a little frustrating.
3.1.3. Work Allows Extra Societal Opportunities
P10: Employment to me right now means I am able to enjoy a little bit of extras that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to enjoy at this stage in my life, also I’m able to contribute to my grandchildren’s enjoyment and hopefully [be] worthwhile [and] help with their education and things like that.
P12: I want to be an art therapist for kids that have been through trauma, and specifically working with kids with ADHD. …I just want to be able to work with kids through art therapy and help them understand that nothing’s wrong with them, they just do things in a certain way. That’s not wrong or bad, it’s just different…I had art therapy through rehab, and it was the best thing in the world. [Researchers’ observation: She was so excited and more animated while talking especially about the role of art therapy in her life’s transformation. It seemed she truly believed in the power of art therapy and potential healing that she could offer to future victims].
3.2. Appropriate Clothing Improves My Stigma and Self-Efficacy
3.2.1. Stigma Questions My Self-Efficacy
P7: When I first came in [to the Ph.D. program] I…felt smart enough. I felt very confident in myself, and over the years that has been wearing down. [Then] I have been told by my advisor…“I don’t think you are a PhD student. I think you are just a master’s student. Why don’t you just drop out?” This was totally out of the blue. But I used to want to be an R-1 research professor. I am definitely questioning, are these people right, with my disabilities, can I really do this?
3.2.2. Workplace Accommodations Diminish My Stigma
P10: Well, actually my boss has been very accommodating as far as the surgeries…I was called an inpatient counsellor…when I first started…and I’d go up to the floors and meet with patients and interview them while they were in bed, and after the colon surgery and 40 days in the hospital and three surgeries and a colostomy bag, she [her supervisor] said, when you are able to come back we’ll make you an outpatient counselor, and I said thank you so much. That was really great. I can sit in my office and help people on the phone or help people that walk in the door.
3.2.3. Clothing Builds My Self-Efficacy
P7: I love clothing! I have kind of a crazy style. I…love bizarre stuff like eyeball necklaces, and shirts that say “puke” or have aliens all over them. I have always dressed more alternatively. I think, in general, clothing is…important for how you express yourself, how you are perceived by other people, especially in a professional context. I think that is something that I have tried to utilize to overcome [my disabilities]. If I could look good and be professional in appearance, that will help me be taken more seriously and that would remove…barriers I have. I don’t have the same luxury as others do in how they dress. In general, I think that’s just how it is, that having a disability, we don’t have the same luxuries. And, clothing is definitely another one of those ways in which…you express yourself in a professional manner.
P10: At this stage…I am looking for [something] that makes me feel attractive and that I can be comfortable in. I used to wear pantyhose all the time and didn’t wear dresses too much because I was getting over the stigma of my colostomy bag. So, my cousin helped me venture out and took me to shop at Kato’s and I found full bottom tops that flowed out and worked. Now I am a dress person. I’d say three out of five days you will see me in a dress. Clothing now makes me feel important and sexy.
4.1. Contributions to the Literature
4.2. Limitations of the Research
Conflicts of Interest
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|P1||40s||Male||Caucasian||Participant has an SCI suffered in a car accident as a teenager. He played wheelchair basketball in college and studied journalism. His journalism advisor told him that he would never be able to get a job in TV broadcasting because of his disability. He had dreamed of being in politics and, after working for disability advocacy organizations, ran for a local seat in his state. He served in both the house and senate of his state and, because of term limits, returned to work in the disability advocacy community.|
|P2||40s||Female||Caucasian||Participant lives with a chronic seizure disorder that has progressed to full disablement and recently has required the use of a cane. She is engaged in her community, serving on multiple committees focused on improving the lives of PLWD. She also serves as a disability advocate, lobbying her local legislature to improve the lives of PLWD through policy.|
|P3||40s||Female||Caucasian||Participant has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and uses a power chair consistently. She has worked for an independent living facility as an independent living specialist. She visits PLWD in their homes and helps them make adjustments so they can live independently. Clothing was very important to her in communicating her style and independence.|
|P4||40s||Male||Caucasian||Participant has Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that he developed as a child. His disability has progressed to the point that he now uses a power chair consistently. He studied hospitality management in college and attempted to find employment in this field but faced perceived discrimination due to his disability. He currently works for an independent living facility. He helps PLWD learn how to navigate and engage in their community.|
|P5||20s||Male||Caucasian||Participant has autism spectrum disorder and attends college. He is studying film and dreams of producing and directing movies. He is concerned with being successful in acquiring jobs upon graduation because of his disability.|
|P6||20s||Female||Caucasian||Participant has been diagnosed with PTSD due to sexual assault. This led to other psychological issues including anxiety and depression. She is a college student studying digital news design and has a goal to work for a digital news source like BuzzFeed. She is most concerned with being successful in the workplace after graduation as she often is unable to meet deadlines because of her PTSD. She sees clothing as a means to express herself, but typically wears clothing that will help others see past her disabilities.|
|P7||20s||Female||Caucasian||Participant has been diagnosed with multiple psychological disorders including Attention Deficit–Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. She is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program focused on clinical psychology. She had never faced stigma or discrimination related to her disabilities. However, the demands of graduate school led to her inability to meet deadlines, and this caused friction between her and her professors. They labeled her as unprofessional and even attempted to get her to drop out of the program. She uses clothing as a means to offset her disability in hopes that her professors will see her as more professional. She has changed her career trajectory because of the stigma she faced.|
|P8||20s||Female||Caucasian||Participant has a spinal cord disorder and is an undergraduate student studying exercise and nutrition with the goal of entering medical school. She is unable to find comfortable clothing because of her spinal cord disorder. It deforms her body shape, and therefore the proportion of most clothing is lost on her. Although her disability has not impacted her success in college, she is concerned about her ability to withstand the fatigue associated with medical school because of her disability.|
|P9||60s||Male||Caucasian||Participant is an engineering professor who has an SCI. His main concern after his injury was to conquer his disability so he could get back to his previous levels of performance. His biggest issue is his inability to continue his most satisfying work tasks. This included traveling to construction sites to provide consulting services. Clothing was not important to him prior to his injury and it remains unimportant now. He sees it simply as a function.|
|P10||60s||Female||Caucasian||Participant is a retired bank executive who suffered from several medical issues that ultimately led to a diagnosis of MS. She works for a large hospital as a patient representative and moved into this position after being unable to fulfill her dream of a nursing career after retirement. Her experience with clothing changed during her disability, moving from a purely functional need when first diagnosed to the need to now appear more attractive and “sexy.”|
|P11||20s||Female||Asian||Participant is a college student studying nursing. She has been diagnosed with psychological disorders including anxiety and depression. She reports that she overcompensates at work to draw attention from her disabilities. However, she used clothing as a way to draw attention to herself and away from her disabilities.|
|P12||20s||Female||Caucasian||Participant is a college student who is studying art therapy. She was abused as a child and through art therapy has been able to handle the multiple psychological disorders she faces. She is concerned that she may not be able to find a job because of her diagnosis.|
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McBee-Black, K.; Ha-Brookshire, J. Exploring Clothing as a Barrier to Workplace Participation Faced by People Living with Disabilities. Societies 2018, 8, 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010019
McBee-Black K, Ha-Brookshire J. Exploring Clothing as a Barrier to Workplace Participation Faced by People Living with Disabilities. Societies. 2018; 8(1):19. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010019Chicago/Turabian Style
McBee-Black, Kerri, and Jung Ha-Brookshire. 2018. "Exploring Clothing as a Barrier to Workplace Participation Faced by People Living with Disabilities" Societies 8, no. 1: 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010019