Graduate Division

Developing a Map for the Overlooked

Striving to Illuminate hidden costs of disability to society

Anna Penner

Anna Penner is a UCI Doctoral Student in the Department of Sociology.  Her research examines outcomes of children who have a sibling with a disability.  Approximately 12 percent, of children in the U.S. have a disability and almost twice as many children have a sibling with a disability.  While a substantial body of work examines outcomes for individuals with disabilities, Anna’s research represents one of the first nationally representative examinations of the longer-term consequences for children who have a family member with a disability.  Her research has recently garnered her the prestigious Fletcher Jones Fellowship, an award given to an outstanding doctoral student who has advanced to candidacy.

So far, she has found that there are educational and behavioral disadvantages among those who have a sister or brother with a disability, particularly among sisters. By investigating these possible hardships, Anna hopes to highlight consequences of disability across the life span and illuminate a previously hidden cost on society.

“Since such a large percentage of children in the U.S. have a sibling with a disability, understanding how their lives are impacted and what paths they do or do not take is important,” says Anna.  “This is a large segment of children, and if they have worse educational or health outcomes due to their siblings, it is critical to find this out, so that we can address this possible hidden cost of disability to society.”

Anna’s own experiences with her brother Daniel, who has severe disabilities, helped guide her interests and research during her undergraduate work, where she explored community support systems for people with family members with disabilities. Much to her surprise, there was little information on the impact to the families, specifically the siblings of disabled individuals.  This inspired her to illuminate potential risks and disadvantages of the sibling and jump-started the advancement of her education towards her Ph.D. in Sociology at UCI.

In addition, to working towards creating a more supportive environment for families with disabilities, Anna maintains a balance between work and life pursuing creative interests in photography and is an avid fan of competitive tennis.  She’s also conscientious about spending time with her family who keep her grounded within her identity outside of academia.

Anna is expected to complete her Ph.D. at UCI by 2018 and plans to continue her research as a postdoctoral fellow or in a tenure-track faculty position.  She looks forward to opening up more discussions about disabilities within sociology courses where it is often overlooked and to find ways of better supporting entire families that are affected by disability.

“I’m very excited about what my journey will involve in terms of helping families improve their quality of life and to make a real difference in the field of Sociology.”