Background Friendship is a crucial relationship offering practical support, enjoyment and improved health. When disability is added into the mix, the permutations of friendship shift. Despite the presence of inclusive social policies many disabled teens continue to experience stigma and social isolation, yet some teens are able to establish long-term friendships.
Methods A nuanced understanding about how disabled teens navigate stigma to create lasting friendships was constructed through this qualitative study. Seven boys and seven girls between the ages 15 to 20 years who experienced disability engaged in research interviews and participant observation sessions. Nine adults were also interviewed. A critical approach to data analysis was complimented by coding in Atlas.ti.
Results This article describes the strategies used by these disabled teens to make and keep friends: disrupting norms about friendship, coming out as disabled, connecting through stigma and choosing self-exclusion.
Conclusion Disabled teens in this study felt a greater sense of belonging when with peers who shared the disability experience, thus self-exclusion was a viable strategy for creating sustainable friendships in the context of oppression. Social policy informed by the experiences of disabled youth in the current study will more effectively promote social inclusion by first acknowledging and then disrupting ableism.