Shaquinta Richardson, 2017

Shaquinta Richardson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, studies families of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – particularly sibling relationships in African American families when one sibling has an intellectual or developmental disability.

“My dissertation focuses on sibling relationship characteristics and how siblings have been socialized within their families and communities regarding race, gender, and disability,” she says.

Prior to coming to UGA, Richardson was a service coordinator and case manager for a disabilities board.

It was this role that caused Richardson to rethink an academic career in the field.

“While working there, I noticed differences in the emotional and social well-being of the persons we served, such as how someone’s experiences seemed to be more positive when there was positive family involvement versus when there was none,” she says.

“I began to wonder what factors impacted the level of family involvement for people with disabilities.”

Richardson also started to recognize strengths and abilities of the people she supported – abilities that were not always recognized or appreciated.

“This experience led me to my current focus in disability studies,” she explains, “which is an academic discipline that examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of disability as a social construct.”

Richardson chose UGA because of its reputation as a top program in her field of marriage and family therapy.

“My program provides dual foci in human development & family science, and marriage and family therapy. The professors here are working on cutting edge research that will be beneficial to families from various backgrounds in many different ways.”

As a research assistant at the Institute of Human Development and Disability, Richardson’s research focuses on families of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the intersection of race and gender.

One of her more recent projects at the Institute examined the association between maternal stress and sibling relationship quality when there is a child with autism, with results demonstrating a positive association between maternal stress and sibling relationship quality.

“Among families of children with intellectual disabilities, we observed a positive relationship between increased stress and negative sibling relationship qualities and conversely, decreased stress and positive sibling relationship qualities.”

Using this knowledge and sibling interaction observations, Richardson, in collaboration with her advisor Dr. Zolinda Stoneman, created a portfolio to help foster relationships between siblings of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For her dissertation, Richardson is examining relationship dynamics in African American families and how siblings have been socialized within their families, communities, and society regarding race and gender when one of the siblings has an intellectual or developmental disability.

She has also had the opportunity to participate in research across the globe, most recently spending time at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa to work with their disability studies division.

“While there I worked on several projects, including an examination of disability supports in low-income countries,” she says. “I continue to collaborate with the professors at the University of Cape Town.”

After graduation, Richardson plans to work as a professor in one of the 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service in the country.

Richardson explains that these centers are in a unique position to facilitate the flow of disability-related information between community and university.

“They join together people with disabilities, members of their families, state and local government agencies, and community providers in projects that provide training, technical assistance, service, research, and information sharing, with a focus on building the capacity of communities to sustain all their citizens.”

“I plan to contribute to the work in disability studies by highlighting the experiences of people who experience marginalization and oppression at the intersection of disability, race, and gender.”