University of Illinois at Chicago

"Unsticking" Physical Therapy Education with Disability Studies: Exploring Tensions and Opportunities

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posted on 2022-05-01, 00:00 authored by Deana Herrman
Physical therapy (PT) educators are called to review how they engage students on social determinants of health and PT’s role in promoting health equity for diverse populations, including people with disabilities. PT students are the practitioners of the future and will play a central role in achieving health equity, yet it is unclear how PT education prepares students for this role. A 3-phase sequential mixed methods approach was used to examine the state of PT education on health inequities among people with disabilities. In phase 1, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with PT educators (n=10) from 4 Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs across Illinois to describe how they address health inequities among people with disabilities as well as challenges to implementing this content in the curriculum. An emerging interest in addressing disability health equity was found alongside inconsistent engagement with people with disabilities. Tensions around disability framing, inclusion of disability perspectives, and inclusion of students with disabilities in education programs were also found. In phase 2, a national survey of DPT programs (n=74) was conducted to identify how students are taught about determinants of health for disabled people. Findings revealed that programs engage with disabled people categorized in a variety of roles such as service recipient, expert, peer, charity recipient and stereotype. Implications for these positionings are discussed. Phase 3 utilized appreciative inquiry and brought together PT educators and members of the disability community to envision equitable PT education practices about disability. Authentic collaboration informed by a disability raised consciousness and anti-ableist strategies was emphasized. Throughout the three phases, links to disability studies principles were found. A final summary describes how disability studies can “unstick” PT education by creating transformational educational experiences for DPT students.



Magasi, Susan


Magasi, Susan


Department of Disability and Human Development

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Hammel, Joy Berg, Kristin Pechak, Celia

Submitted date

May 2022

Thesis type



  • en

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