As a polio survivor and former clinical psychologist at a rehab hospital, Carol Gill has helped a lot of people adjust to disability. One day, that wasn’t enough for her.

“I realized that my clinical skills and activities were limited in changing the status quo for people with disabilities,” says Gill, 49. “I could work with people on an individual basis, but I didn’t feel I was doing very much to improve the status of people with disabilities generally.”

Gill decided to expand her influence through disability research. “Important questions about everyday life with a disability weren’t being adequately researched from a disability perspective,” she says. Studies often asked “experts” about what disabled people needed, she says, “but you never saw many–if any–in which people with disabilities were asked.”

So for the last eight years, Gill has asked. She co-founded The Chicago Center for Disability Research and became an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is now in charge of disability studies at the master’s and Ph.D. levels. She has researched disability identity, self-esteem, women’s health, parenting and many other topics.

But Gill doesn’t live in an ivory tower. An outspoken advocate of disability culture, she networks with artists, college students, disability activists and others to build a community based on disability pride.

In this interview with Jean Dobbs, Gill outlines how oppressive ideals–external and internal–affect women with disabilities, and what they can do to build a positive self-image.

JD: A lot of people cringe at the idea of a “disability pride” movement, but you seem to see it as a starting point for building a sense of worth independent of mainstream c