Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Social Work

Committee Chair

Wulff, Daniel P.

Author's Keywords

Social sciences; Participatory action research; Mental retardation; Disability; Qualitative research; Cognitive disability


Mental retardation--Research--United States; Mental retardation--Social aspects


This dissertation is a participatory action research project with adults with mental retardation who reside in Louisville, Kentucky. It explores some of the history and ideologies that frequently have hindered persons with mental retardation from being regarded by others as unique individuals with various abilities. It investigates dynamics of social ostracism and the resultant silence, inclusive of the social work profession's relative absence in the field of mental retardation. Furthermore, it explores various aspects of research with persons with disabilities, and with persons with mental retardation in particular. While there have been multiple studies about persons with mental retardation, very few actually include their voices. This dissertation attempts to offer a corrective to this and offers persons with mental retardation a vehicle for their opinions, actions, and voices. A participatory action research design and methodology is offered involving two phases of the study. The first phase involves interviewing 25 adults relative to their personal concerns of things they would like to see changed in their lives. These interviews reveal that the adults' concerns are as varied as the individuals themselves. The second phase focuses on a ten-month process in which nine persons from the original 25 agree to commit to a group experience in which they decide upon a common issue, their structure, and other group needs. They then work together on how best to address the issue, enact their plan, and communally reflect upon the experience. This group decides to focus on the paratransit system in Louisville and through a process of hard work and commitment, decide to invite the director of the system to attend to their group meeting as the focus of their action. The director attends their group, answering their questions and engaging in an extended conversation about their concerns. The dissertation includes a session-by-session reporting on the group gatherings, in addition to insights gained through facilitator's peer supervision experience. It concludes with reflections on the applicability of PAR in social work practice settings and future research needs.