Original Research

A qualitative inquiry into the ways in which space and place influence the lived experiences of adults with disabilities in rural South Africa


name here
Joanne Neille1
PhD, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department *


1 Speech Pathology and Audiology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

ACCEPTED: 14 December 2020

early abstract:

The field of disability studies is a contested area of research which has transformed significantly over the last three decades. The move away from the medical model of disability in the early 1980’s created opportunities for the voices of people with disabilities to be heard. However, research into the lived experiences of this population has historically relied on proxy accounts, and where first-person accounts have been included, people with disabilities have often been excluded on the basis of cognitive-communicative (dis)ability and language proficiency. This article explores the ways in which space and place  influence the lived experience of disability in a rural South African context. A qualitative approach underpinned by the principles of narrative inquiry was adopted. Thirty participants with a variety of impairments were interviewed over a period of three months. Data were analysed using  inductive thematic analysis. Findings reveal a complex web of physical and socio-emotional aspects which influence the spaces and places in which stories are lived and told. Overriding themes include exclusion on the basis of physical mobility; exclusion from healthcare, education and social services; exclusion from the employment sector; exclusion from participation in socio-cultural activities; and the creation of ‘safe places’ which provide insight into the physical and psychosocial dimensions of inclusion.  A case is made for social activism and for communities to confront the anxieties, silences, prejudices and injustices which exist in policy documents, healthcare consultations and community engagements.