Development of the Ableist Microaggression Scale and Assessing the Relationship Between Ableist Microaggressions and the Mental Health of Disabled Adults

Committee: Dr. N. Eugene Walls (chair), Dr. Jennifer Bellamy, Dr. Kathy Green, Dr. Bernadette Marie Calafell (outside-chair)

Approximately 20% of U.S. residents are currently living with a disability. Ableism values a specific type of physical, mental and/or emotional capital as well as supports socially constructed expectations of ability, valuing these expectations over different types of ability and disability. One way in which ableism is perpetuated is through microaggressions, at the more interpersonal, or micro level. Microaggressions are everyday interactions that perpetuate inequalities and stereotypes against people who belong to marginalized communities. Experiencing multiple microaggressions has been referred to as death by a thousand paper cuts, indicating the severity of the sum total of these casual types of prejudice and oppression. Research demonstrates that experiences of identity-related microaggressions can negatively impact mental health outcomes, increase somatic symptoms, and increase negative affect. Informed by social dominance theory, critical race theory and stigmatization theory, this study explores how to measure ableist microaggressions by developing the Ableist Microaggression Scale, and follows this up with a survey using this same scale to better under the relationship between experiences of ableist microaggressions and mental health outcomes among people with disabilities.

This mixed methods study consists of three phases. The first phase uses qualitative interviews with disabled stakeholders (people with disabilities, disability researchers, and disability activists/advocates) to explore more of the nuances of ableist microaggressions, and to co-create items for the Ableist Microaggressions Scale. The second phase uses a quantitative cross-sectional survey of 984 U.S. adults and a split-sample exploratory factor analysis and principal components analysis to validate the Ableist Microaggression Scale (AMS-65). The final phase uses a second quantitative cross-sectional survey of 311 U.S. adults who identify as disabled or having a disability to examine the correlation between ableist microaggressions and mental health, as assessed by the Mental Health Inventory (MHI-18). Findings indicate that experiencing ableist microaggressions are negatively correlated with positive mental health outcomes, and that visibility of disabilities/impairments are correlated with experiencing ableist microaggressions. These findings can inform the work of social workers and other human service professionals when supporting disabled individuals, recognizing that their mental health may be related to these common and often unintentional oppressive interactions.

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