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Meaning of life for adolescents with a physical disability in Korea


Shin Jeong Kim, Department of Nursing, Hallym University, Okchon-Dong 1, Chunchon, South Korea 200-702. E-mail:


Background.  Korean views and attitudes towards disabled people are generally negative. Because of this, living with life-long disabilities in Korea means pain for oneself and one's family. Also family members think that the disability is detrimental to their social standing and try to hide the disabled person. Koreans believe that having disabilities is the result of the geomantic system of topography, used in choosing auspicious sites for graves and houses, sins committed in a previous existence, the fault of an ancestor, or a wicked ghost.

Aim.  The objective of the study was to provide an understanding of how adolescents with physical disabilities see meaning in their lives, with the ultimate aim of encouraging these adolescents to find their own values and meanings of life.

Design.  An inductive and descriptive study to understand the perspective of adolescents with physical disabilities.

Methods.  Eighty-eight adolescents with physical disabilities were interviewed in depth and content analysis was used for analyzing the data.

Findings.  Adolescents with physical disabilities in Korea experience meaning in their lives when society accepts their existential problems and allows them to live a normal life. This normality includes helping others (as a friend or as a volunteer) and creating opportunities to achieve their own goals in life. The main categories in the findings were ‘accomplishment’, ‘social adaptation’, ‘improvement of the quality of life’, ‘good deeds’, ‘sincerity’, ‘satisfaction’, ‘having a relationship’, ‘achievement of self’, ‘perception of one's own usefulness’, ‘rehabilitation’, and ‘gain recognition by others’.

Conclusion.  Adolescents with physical disabilities can understand the meaning of their lives when meaning is framed in the context of being a social issue, and when they are allowed to clarify their own values. Nursing intervention programmes need to be developed to improve the quality of physically disabled adolescents’ lives.