We identified three important factors that affect the sense of self of women with physical disabilities even more strongly than women without disabilities: 1) work, 2) relationships, and 3) abuse. Noticeably absent are factors related to the disability itself. Women with disabilities must deal with the combination of barriers and disincentives to employment faced by all people with disabilities and barriers to employment faced by women in our society. Findings from this study confirm census reports that they are much less likely to be employed than women without disabilities, even though on average they had a higher educational level in this sample, and that they have a lower personal and household income. Women with disabilities have significantly less opportunity to benefit from the positive effect on self-esteem that comes with economic independence. Similarly, as will be described in the next section, they have significantly less opportunity to benefit from the positive effects of establishing romantic relationships. Although abuse is seriously damaging to all women, it is associated with lower levels of self-esteem in women with disabilities.
The question remains whether women with disabilities have high self-esteem because they work, have romantic relationships, and have not experienced abuse, or whether they work, have romantic relationships, and have not experienced abuse as adults because they have high self-esteem. There is certainly need for further analysis of these data and additional studies to answer this question; however, the results obtained so far clearly indicate the importance of esteem building activities and programming for girls and women with disabilities, be they within families, in schools, in churches, incorporated in medical and vocational rehabilitation services, or in the community at large.