On shoes & procrastination: How a last minute shopping trip led me to confront my own ableism

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Image created by the artist known as “Ambivalently Yours.” Note for screenreader: Image of a woman with short hair, looking up, with the words “their ignorance does not define you” over her head and collarbone.

By Rachel Yarid, M.S.W. Candidate

Salem State University

A few months back, I was going to the mall to very last minute fine a pair of shoes that I needed for the next day. The entire process was making me anxious, seeing as I fall all too well into the category of a procrastinator. Frustrated, I saw that the shoes that I wanted didn’t come in my size, of course, and I spent way too much time in DSW looking for something that would work on a 9 ½ girl’s foot on a time crunch. Luckily, once I had found shoes that worked, I went to use the restroom and wanted to head straight home. When I got there, all of the stalls were full and after waiting behind someone, I ended up using the stall for people with disabilities that someone else had just walked out of. I hadn’t thought anything of it, seeing as the restroom was full anyways, and I knew I would be quick because of how badly I wanted to leave.

Almost immediately after I entered the stall, I heard a woman outside complaining that someone was using the designated stall I was in and how “inconsiderate people were becoming.” I called out that I would be out in a minute, and the woman continued to complain. When I was out of the stall, I saw that the woman who had been annoyed with me was actually the woman pushing someone else in a wheelchair. The woman in the wheelchair told me it was okay, however the woman pushing her hastily replied that it wasn’t ok. I looked at the woman in the wheelchair, said thank you for being understanding and apologized for taking up any of her time, and ignored the other woman.

While environments can and should be adapted wherever possible, there remains a disadvantage associated with having impairments that no amount of environmental change could entirely eliminate. People who rely on wheelchairs are often more vulnerable and have fewer choices than the majority of able-bodied people (Shakespeare, 2002). I am sure that the woman who was assisting the woman in the wheelchair had to deal with issues similar to this many, many times. I would never invalidate someone’s emotions, but it was clear that she was exhausted with having to rely on others to accommodate the woman she was with each day. Although the way she went about it wasn’t appropriate and felt almost embarrassing to the woman in the wheelchair, I am sure I could have handled it differently myself. I ended up reflecting on it for the rest of the day and had felt bad for the woman in the wheelchair.

As Mackelprang & Salsgiver (2015) say, society’s worst flaw of viewing those with a disability is through pity. This is something I have done, and I need to change in order to view people with disabilities as more independent and capable human beings. Through this aspect of their words, and considering someone as a “poor soul” even, I have fed into ableism in a multitude of ways without even recognizing it. Not only as a social work student but as someone fortunate enough to live in the community of Salem, Massachusetts, that flourishes with diversity, I feel as though it should be a part of my natural instinct to want to understand others the best that I can. With a sense of understanding, or at least maintaining the perspective of being open to others differences, I’m not only leaving the door open to gain knowledge for my own benefits but for the benefit of maintaining a balance within the flow of our community. Even when it’s in a situation of last-minute shopping and feeling overwhelmed, it is important for myself and everyone around me to make sure I stay grounded in these beliefs.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice, 3rd edition. New York: Lyceum Books.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). The social model of disability. In Ed., Davis, L. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader, Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.

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Social work student Rachel Yarid standing in front of a large graffiti mural on a rock face. Mural says “you are conscious matter.”

Rachel Yarid is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a B.S.W. in Social Work from Salem State University. She hopes to do group therapy with children and families with her career.  Ms. Yarid can be reached at r_yarid@salemstate.edu or at @disabilitysw on Twitter.

How reflecting on my choice to do prenatal tests for fetal disabilities made me a better social worker

Ultrasound
Note for screenreader: Image of a pregnant white woman getting an ultrasound of her fetus. (Image credit to: http://www.wholisticwomenshealthcare.com/thoughts-of-a-midwife/2015/8/24/ultrasound-in-pregnancy)

By Janelle Cassola, M.S.W. Candidate

Salem State University

Recently, my professor asked me to reflect on the ways in which I have engaged in ableism as a social work student. While I could not think of a professional instance, I was able to reflect back on my personal life about a time that I did engage in ableism. Recently, I gave birth to my son, my first child, back in January of this year. Toward the beginning of my pregnancy, I believe around week 12, the obstetrician sat me down and started to discuss optional screenings that they could do that would determine whether the baby had any disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. As soon as she started explaining all the different tests, I knew I was going to choose to have at least one done. In the end, I chose one of the least invasive but more accurate tests.

Whenever someone asked why I was getting the test (as I wasn’t high risk, and am on the younger side), I would tell them I just wanted to be able to be prepared. I told them that I wanted to be able to prepare my house or to get necessary equipment or other things that might be needed by my child. However, leading up to the test I began to have dreams about getting ‘bad news’ from the doctor. I also had dreams in which my doctor told me that there was ‘something wrong’ with my baby. I started to realize that it wasn’t my house that I would have to prepare, it would have to be myself! Slowly, I came to the understanding that if I got the news that my child had a disability, I would need some time to process and accept that news. I think that I struggled with the belief that my child would have a ‘lesser life’ if they were born with a disability. In addition, I think that a part of my process would have been going through the grieving process as I would have been grieving the ‘perfect child’ that I imagine many pregnant women imagine when they first find out they are pregnant.

In my readings for my course on social work practice with people with disabilities, I learned how genetic testing connects to the medical model of disability. As my textbook discussed, the testing and the possible results were only presented to me by my medical team through a medical model lens, versus a social model of disability lens. My medical team informed me of the genetic reasoning behind any of the possible disabilities that could be discovered but did not include any information regarding what my child’s life would be like if the test was positive. As Mackelprang and Salsgiver (2015) suggested in my textbook, it would have been beneficial to hear about the lives of people living with some of the disabilities. This could have possibly calmed my nerves as well as avoided my ableist thinking. My hope is that for patients who do have a positive test, their medical team can learn to sit down with them and go into further detail about what a child’s life will and can look like. I think this could help a parent-to-be process that news in a not-so-negative way. I believe that a discussion like this could help patients understand that the only options are not abortion or a child with a ‘lesser life.’

As a social work professional, it is important to always reflect on and examine our own ableism. In our society, we have been witness to countless ableist thoughts and beliefs throughout our lives. These beliefs become the standard way of thinking and affect our interactions with people with disabilities. Therefore, it is essential for a social worker to reflect on their own ableist thoughts and practices in order to be able to change their way of thinking – and practicing! Once the social worker is able to do this work, their practice with people with disabilities has the potential to be so much more valuable.

Janelle Cassola is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies from Worcester State University. She hopes to continue her career in the field of adoption. Ms. Cassola chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities to become better informed of this community, the barriers that they face, and the practice frameworks regarding people with disabilities. Ms. Cassola can be reached at j_cassola2@salemstate.edu or at @disabilitysw on Twitter.

 

 

On stacking books in the library, and undoing my own ableism

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Note for screenreader: A stack of antique leather-bound books, such as one might find in a library (Image credit: http://autodo.info/pages/o/old-leather-bound-book/)

 

By Sara Ghalaini, M.S.W. Candidate

Salem State University

My first job right out of high school was working in a public library. I was one of three library pages who would put books away in order to maintain the book shelves. A majority of the library staff watched me grow up in that building, and I was given my first opportunity at an internship the year before. I was very bonded to the staff and to the building itself. Working there reminded me a great deal of my childhood.

“Violet” was one of the book pages I worked alongside. For as long as I can remember, she had always worked at the library, it was almost as if she came with the building. Violet retired the year the building was given a grant to be rebuilt, which I always found to be appropriate timing. As a child, I could always count on Violet to be in the fiction section of the library. Walking in, I knew I would find her pursing her lips and mumbling to herself while she put the cart of books away. Typically, she would stop me, and let me know I looked just like my mother and would then ask after her, right before complimenting me for the season I reminded her of, Autumn. By the time I began to work at the library, Violet was an elderly woman. She would come into the library every morning at 8:45 a.m. with fifteen minutes to spare, so she could sit on the ratty old orange couch in the staff lounge for ten minutes and then spend the last five minutes greeting staff as they came in before getting to her book cart.

Violet was meticulous at keeping time and budgeted herself to shelving two carts for the three hours she would work every day. Some days she was overly ambitious and was able to complete two and a half carts, but that was rare. Once she finished her shift she would grab her things from the staff lounge and go home. Later I learned Violet had a schedule she followed daily, consisting of breakfast at the Tea Cup Café, a walk to work, completion of her shift and then a return to the Tea Cup Café before going home. She lived alone and had a visiting nurse who would come to her home twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Once I had gotten really efficient at keeping my shelves well maintained, I would go down and help Violet with her books. At this point I was shelving three to four carts an hour. Many times, I would put Violet’s books in alphabetical order for her on the cart so all she had to do was shelve while I walked around after her and fixed her shelves to make them look as “fronted and faced” as mine. After several weeks of doing this I was taken aside by my supervisor and asked that I not help Violet because Violet was capable of doing her own work and she took the time she did because she had schizophrenia. I was not aware of this, and always felt I was doing what was “right” because Violet was elderly and honestly, seemed to me to present as not very aware of her surroundings. It wasn’t until I was told of Violet having a diagnosis of schizophrenia that I realized why she presented the way she did.

I learned later on that she had been institutionalized for many years as a young woman until her brother and sister were old enough to discharge her from the facility she was in. Violet came from a time where health practitioners believed it was best to lock away persons with disabilities and forget them. This process is consistent with the manifestation of oppression through containment (Mackleprang and Salsgiver, 2015). Society would rather hide Violet away than have her become a productive member of society or teach her skills because her life was less valuable than that of a person without a disability.

Violet and I never discussed her past or her diagnoses for the four years she and I worked together. After learning of Violet’s diagnosis, I realized I had been practicing ableism by doing her work for her and immediately stopped. I was not allowing Violet to do the work she was capable of because I assumed she couldn’t do it. Following this incident, I learned to ask before assisting her because I wanted to ensure I was respecting her ability work at her own pace and do what she had been doing for thirty plus years.

The irony of it all is my brother has schizophrenia and it wasn’t until I met Violet. that I realized the importance and effectiveness of a routine but also, knowing Violate gave me hope that my brother might someday find himself in a similar position where he could function independently from my parent’s care. The last year I worked at the library, Violet could no longer live independently due to needing around the clock assistance and eventually moved to a nursing home where she passed away some years ago. Every so often I visit the library and think of the woman who taught me about resiliency but also gave me a perspective that I keep with me always.

Sara Ghalaini
Sara Ghalaini is an M.S.W. candidate at Salem State University. Note for Screenreader: Image of a smiling young woman dressed in hijab


Sara Ghalaini is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a Bachelors in Psychology from The University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is currently working on multiple initiatives including functioning as an LGBTQ Liaison for children in the care of the Department of Children and Families, building awareness between social workers and refugee families working with DCF and creating a chapter for disability issues under DCF’s Diversity Leadership. She hopes to continue her career in social work as a leader in community initiatives. Ms. Ghalaini chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities because she found a lack of cultural awareness between social workers and the clients they serve. Ms. Ghalaini can be reached at sara.ghalaini@state.ma.us.

 

 

A teacher’s response to Charlottesville for social workers in practice with people with disabilities

White nationalists from Jerusalem Post
Photo description: Segment of a large crowd of white men holding torches at a nighttime “Unite the Right” rally organized by White nationalists and Nazis on August 12, 2017. (Image from the Jerusalem Post)

I am currently teaching a course on social work practice with people with disabilities.  The course uses an intersectional lens, acknowledging the fact that people have many intersecting social identities that can result in varying types of privilege and oppression.  As such, I had to provide some venue for my students to address the Charlottesville violence and hate speech.  The following is a discussion prompt I provided for them to respond to, and I thought other social work educators might be interested in seeing this so that they could use it and/or modify it for their own courses.  Feedback welcome!

Discussion prompt: As we are part of a course on social work practice with people with disabilities in the United States of America, I would be remiss not to address the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. As you have already likely gathered, there are important links between the White nationalist/Nazi actions in Virginia, and the work we do as social workers with people with disabilities – who often have intersecting marginalized social identities. Many of the perspectives held by members of White nationalist/Nazi groups are clearly identifiable as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and even Eugenic in nature.  Therefore, as social workers practicing under our particular Code of Ethics, we need to respond. If you need some quick resources to learn more about the dynamics that led to the Charlottesville rally and violence, you can check out the “Charlottesville Syllabus” at this link.

As disability-aware social workers training to view the world with an intersectional lens, we need to acknowledge and act on what has happened in Charlottesville. That means that we need to engage in discussions – often difficult in nature – with our families, our co-workers and with our clients. Let’s start with our work with clients. One prominent disability civil rights activist, Rebecca Cokley, has noted that when terrorist incidents like this occur, people with disability count the minutes until ableist claims about the ‘crazy’ person who engaged in terrorist acts roll in. That may be an important place for you to start a conversation with a client with a disability in a week like this one. In this essay, Ms. Cokley points out another important link between disability and trauma.  She calls for the disability community (and disability service providers) to reach out to those whose disabilities came about as a result of trauma, such as the people who were injured and impaired by the car driven by the White nationalist/Nazi from Ohio. Her essay is short, easy to read and compelling and you can find it here.

It is also important to remember, however, that our work is not just direct care work. Remember, the NASW Code of Ethics states that we must fight for social justice, as it is a core value in our profession. We need to do more than discuss these difficult topics amongst ourselves, we also need to take a stand on them. I am fond of the idea that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. It is important to move beyond ideas of ourselves as “good” people, and work towards actively addressing the webs of oppression that exist in our world, little bit by little bit. Here is an example about how ADAPT, the national disability civil rights organization, has taken a stance on the events in Charlottesville. Where might you be able to stake your claim to your own stance?  Check out these ideas for 10 ways to fight hate from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Finally, I want to leave you with a challenging set of questions. Although there are many facets to the NASW Code of Ethics, let us remember that the mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values, including the idea that there is dignity and worth in every person.  How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color?  What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

Please leave your comments about this discussion prompt and how it might be improved or expanded upon.  All feedback is welcome.

How my part-time job helped me to confront my own ableism

Root beer in a mug
Note for screen reader: A frothy mug of delicious root beer, image from http://www.cottoncravings.com

By Sage Lucas, M.S.W. Candidate

Salem State University

I never thought that my part-time job as a waitress could possibly inform my social work practice in any way. Recently, in my disability and social work course, I was asked to consider my own ableism. After some reflection, I realized that, unfortunately, I have recently engaged in ableism at my job. While waitressing, many times during the day, a person with a disability will come in either on their own or with a family member or friend.

One time in particular, it was a busy Saturday, and a young man and his grandmother came and sat down at my table. I went up to them and said hello. When the young man began to speak to me, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He started to point at the pictures in the menu and he was making grunting sounds. I looked towards the grandmother and blatantly asked, “Do you know what he wants?” The grandmother gave me a strange look, pointed towards her grandson and said, “He will tell you what he wants, he can do that, you know.” I looked towards the man, feeling ashamed of myself, and apologized. Then, I asked him what he would like to drink. He took out a book of pictures with words underneath each picture. He flipped through the book until it got to the page with drinks and food on it. After looking and looking for the right picture, he finally pointed to one picture in particular and looked up at me and smiled. And I said, “Would you like a root beer?” He politely nodded and smiled at me and then pointed to a picture of popcorn and signed the word for please. I said, “Ok, why don’t I get your drinks and I’ll grab you some popcorn as well.”

In reflecting on this incident, I can see that I engaged in what Mackelprang and Salsgiver (2015) called “compartmentalization.” Compartmentalization is meant to stereotype people with disabilities and to place them in a ‘predominated’ category Indeed, many times before I have seen a person with a disability enter the restaurant and if they cannot speak, the person who is with them will speak for them to make things more convenient for the wait staff. After some reflection, it should not matter how quickly the person can tell me their order, nor how they do it. Rather, they should be allowed to order in their own way and on their own. I did not take the time to see that this young man could order on his own and that he did not need the assistance of his grandmother. Mackelprang and Salsgiver (2015) comment that “pity places people with disabilities in a totally powerless position. They are not in control of their own lives. They are childlike. They are dependent…” (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015, p. 113). This relates to what I have observed in myself. I saw that this young man had a disability and I stereotyped him with other persons with disabilities I had seen, when in fact he was not dependent on his grandmother, he was quite independent.  Since then, I have taken the time to stop and analyze how I talk to people and to not rush through my day without thinking about what I say, or how I am thinking about a situation. Although our society is structured in an ableist way, making us all susceptible to ableism, I do not want to behave in an ableist manner. Rather, I want to be someone who supports people with disabilities.

As a social worker it is important to understand what ableism is and how we each engage in it in our daily lives. If we want to work with people with disabilities we need to understand a person’s rights to dignity of risk, and their right to engage in self-determination. Looking back at that day with the young man who loved root beer, I can tell you all the rest of the meal was much different from how it was at the beginning. I took my time in talking to the man, and only asked the grandmother if she needed something rather than asking if her grandson needed something. After this experience of being called out by the grandmother, I feel I am more aware of how I think about disability in the restaurant and in my social work practice.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice, 3rd edition. New York: Lyceum Books.

BIO photo
Sage Lucas, MSW Candidate at Salem State University (Note for screenreader: Image of a young white woman smiling, in a car)

Sage Lucas is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a Bachelors in Social Work, with minors in Criminal Justice and Psychology from Salem State University, and Sage also holds a certificate in Childhood Studies from Salem State University. She hopes to continue her career in social work, working in the mental health field. Ms. Lucas chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities because she found a gap in her knowledge as a social work, and wanted to be as well rounded a social worker as possible. Ms. Lucas can be reached at s_lucas1@salemstate.edu

 

 

Addressing our own ableism and fear when it comes to sex and the people with disabilities we work with

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(For screenreaders: Black sign that says “disability poses no limits to sex” in colorful letters)

By Maria Scippa, MSW Candidate

Salem State University

As part of my coursework for my social work degree, I was asked to read some first person narratives from people with disabilities regarding sexuality. For example, I read an article entitled “Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine” as well as “Dating in a wheelchair and representation: Interview with Lolo,” among others.

I was moved by these readings. I am also appreciative for the insights and raw honesty of the people who shared their experiences. It is sad that our society has operated from both the medical and moral models of disability, and as such has fallen victim to assumptions about people with disabilities and their experience with sex, love and intimacy. Even though this is not a topic I have given much thought to before, I am afraid that I, too, may have been very ill-informed regarding the experiences of people with disabilities before engaging with these readings.

The theme that I found throughout these readings was that there are two different sets of challenges that people with disabilities may face when it comes to dating and intimate relationships. First, one set of challenges involves the specifics of people’s disabilities, and finding creative ways to overcome them within a relationship. Second, the other challenges appear to be centered around societal views that create barriers to people with disabilities even forming intimate relationships. These barriers can manifest in different ways, whether that be as a result of a lack of respect for self-determination within a residential setting or assumptions on the part of a potential partner when they find out the person they are talking to has a disability, perhaps ending the relationship before it starts. The latter set of challenges are that which social workers should be paying attention to addressing in our work. The more we educate ourselves and others about the presence of ableism, and work to shift the perception of people with disabilities as not interested in or capable of physical intimacy, the first type of challenge become quite manageable.

A common thread through all of this seems to be fear. In his article on the dignity of risk concept, Craig Parson states, “one of the biggest barriers is fear: fear of the unknown; fear of legal ramifications and fear of failure” (Parson, 2008, p. 28). We see this barrier manifest itself within individuals, institutions and the larger society.  Unfortunately, this may be the driving force behind laws, regulations, policies and policy implementation that end up creating damage to people. When operating from a place of fear, social workers may deny people opportunities to fail and try something all should have access to. Perhaps social workers neglect to honor people’s rights in the hopes of avoiding a negative situation. This approach can prove to be ineffective in so many ways. In this regard, Ann Thomas has a powerful message in sharing her own story, “but all it takes to remove that fear is self awareness and a conversation with the person who is different” (Thomas, 2015, p. 1). Although this statement sounds so simple, there is so much truth to it. If social workers were to take on this attitude of curiosity and openness, some of these barriers could start to fall away for the people with disabilities that we work with.

Parsons, C. (2008). The dignity of risk: Challenges in moving on. Australian Nursing Journal15(9), 28.

Thomas, A. (2015). Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/04/08/dating-in-a-wheelchair-your-problem-not-mine/ (Links to an external site.)

Maria Scippa is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a Bachelors in Social Work from Salem State University. She hopes to continue her career in social work, working with children and families. Ms. Scippa chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities because this knowledge will help her in providing well informed, competent services to families that have a person with a disability. Ms. Scippa can be reached at mscippa@salemstate.edu.

 

 

Balancing the medical and social models of disability in an education setting

Graduate social work students working with Dr. Elspeth Slayter at Salem State University were asked to reflect on the ways in which they approach their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were “under” the social model of disability. Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the part of the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability? Provide a case example and then describe how you could/do/would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

By Colleen Dalton, MSW Candidate

Salem State University

My case example is that of a student with diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a psychiatric disability who attends the school where I am doing my internship, a Kindergarten through -8th grade inclusion school. This student’s treatment involved medical model-informed practice as he engaged in psychological testing, which compared his functioning to that of students with “normal” learning capacities. This student was placed on medication, either to attempt to “cure” him or get him to a place where he would behave “acceptably” in the school system (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015, p. 105).

However, before this student’s educational plan was implemented along the lines of the medical model, there were a number of steps taken under a social model-informed practice approach.  For example, a functional behavior plan was created as was a behavior plan that was centered on his own interests as incentives. This student was also given the option of using a sensory tool during class time as well as scheduled movement breaks and cues to help with transitions.

I was lucky for the opportunity to work in a placement that devoted a great deal of time, effort, and funds towards trying to create the most inclusive setting possible. A large driving force for the school was the disproportionately high number of students with disabilities and socio-emotional troubles within the learning community. The school’s administrators recognized that the prevailing medical model played a major role in disempowering their students within the larger society.

As Mackelprang & Salsgiver (2015) discuss,  “the medical model’s emphasis on normality as defined by the dominant society results in enormous emotional, psychological, and social costs for people with disabilities” (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015, p. 105). The school set out to normalize the use of sensory tools, movement breaks, and inclusive classrooms.  These actions were taken so that their students could graduate and head on to high school with the confidence and tools they needed to succeed. At the same time, the school also recognized that sometimes testing and medication were needed to keep students safe and promote the best educational opportunities for everyone in the classroom.

As Shakespeare (2006) points out, “the social model so strongly disowns individual and medical approaches that it risks implying that impairment is not a problem” (p. 217-218). Finding the balance between the social and medical models of practice can be tough but is definitely essential in terms of keeping people safe in my opinion.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice, 3rd edition. New York: Lyceum Books.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). The social model of disability. In Ed., Davis, L. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader, Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.

Colleen Dalton
Colleen Dalton, MSW Candidate at Salem State University. (For screenreader: Young white woman with reddish-brown hair sitting at a table next to a window looking out onto the sea)


Colleen Dalton is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work.  She holds a B.A. in Human Services from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She hopes to work with children and families after graduation. Dalton can be reached at Colleen.Dalton001@gmail.com.

 

 

Weighing the pros & cons of the medical & social model of disability when working with people facing medical complexities

Graduate social work students working with Dr. Elspeth Slayter were asked to reflect on the ways in which they do their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were“under” the social model of disability. Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus of the model. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability?  Provide a case example and then describe how you would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

By Erica Sarro, MSW Candidate

Salem State University

“Sarah” was a five year old girl that was referred to my agency by the school system. Her treatment goals included providing resource allocation and engaging in parental education, as well as supporting Sarah with behavior management assistance. Sarah had a diagnosis of intellectual disability as well as a rare genetic condition, which required the assistance of a walker for mobility and a feeding tube.  Sarah was also non-verbal and required assistance with improving her receptive language capacity.

If I took a medical model approach to this case, which is defined as; “the belief that with the correct intervention all human abnormalities could be corrected,” I would focus on encouraging medical interventions (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015; p 103). This would include helping Sarah and her family connect with surgeons and genetic doctors, who might be searching for a cure for her condition.  Additionally, I would also have worked with the occupational and physical therapists in both community and school settings, with the goal of helping Sarah to walk like a “normal person”, instead of needing a walker or other device.

While practicing under the social model, I would focus on helping the family and school make the environment a more welcoming and accessible place. For example, I would encourage both the school and the family not to focus on interventions with the goal of curing Sarah’s disabilities.  Instead, I would educate the family on the rights of a student with disabilities, coordinate with the school to ensure that the correct services were in place so that the medical needs did not overshadow or define Sarah’s school experience.  I believe that even though Sarah’s medical issues, (such as the feeding tube) do need to be addressed, that Sarah is more than her impairments and that the school and family should accommodate her needs in order for her to feel successful and equal.

The social model of disability is important when viewing Sarah’s’ ability to interact with her environment.  With respect to the social model, Shakespeare states that “the problems disabled people face are the result of social oppression and exclusion, not their individual deficits.  This places the moral responsibility on society to remove the burdens which have been imposed and enable disabled people to participate. (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015).  As a social work provider, it is my ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice for people with disabilities, including Sarah.  Especially important for Sarah’s well-being would be making her home a clutter-free environment, so that she could access all of the rooms in her home.  With respect to her school environment, ensuring that Sarah’s classes were accessible and just as equal in opportunities as all classrooms should be.

I would argue, however, that the social model approach is not the perfect model nor is the medical model.  As a social worker, I would realize that the social model is not realistic for all aspects of Sarah’s life.  Sarah is going to struggle with frustration, and making her life barrier free is not going to be possible all the time.  Sarah’s family has to balance her medical and physical needs along with her emotional and communication needs equally.  Some medical intervention is needed and any improvement with eating or walking should be celebrated along with her ability to access her environment and society in the least restrictive way possible.  Being knowledgeable in both models will not only enhance the quality of integrative care for people with disabilities, but also the assurance of continued cultural competency in the social work profession.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R.  (2015). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice, 3rd edition.  New York: Lyceum Books.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). The social model of disability. In Ed., Davis, L. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader, Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.

Erica Sarro
Erica Sarro, MSW Candidate at Salem State University (Note for Screenreaders: Photo depicts a young white woman with dark hair, sitting in a car)

Erica Sarro is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a B.A. in Social Work from Salem State University. She hopes to continue her career in policy related macro social work. Mrs. Sarro chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities in order to become a better advocate for equal rights for people with disabilities. Mrs. Sarro can be reached at e_sarro@salemstate.edu.

Why social workers should learn about disability culture

By Sage Lucas, MSW Candidate

Salem State University

Understanding disability culture is one of the most important things you can do as a social worker. Judith Heumann, noted disability civil rights advocate, talks about the importance of accessibility in everyday life, as well as people’s attitudes towards the disability culture and community. You can see these comments on this YouTube video. Ms. Heumann goes over the fact that one of the most limiting parts of improving disability culture is working on what other non-disabled people think (Heumann, 2012).

I think that Ms. Heumann’s comments ring true for working in the social work profession as well. I say this because when one has a certain view about a group of people or a program, it can determine whether one has an overall positive or negative view of a person with a disability. Also, our own views can help skew other people’s views as well, so we should be aware of this.

Another reason why it is so important to have an understanding of disability culture as a social work practitioner is so that we may advocate for and with our clients who are persons with disabilities. According to Duprè (2012), “disability activists and theorists have also deconstructed the way that disabled people have been depicted in history, literature, art and in the entertainment industry. In doing so they not only bring existing normative sub-texts to light but write alternative perspectives which incorporate the lived experiences of disabled people as active agents in culture, rather than passive and dependent receivers of cultural messages and meanings (Duprè, 2012, p. 178).” This point has huge relevance for advocating for how others see our social work clients.

I would also like to recommend a disability culture-related resource to social workers practicing with people with disabilities. This resource is Emotions Anonymous (EA),. Emotions Anonymous was created in the 1970’s and is similar to groups such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, but instead of focusing on substance use disorders, they focus on feelings and emotions. According to the EA website, ” …members come together in weekly meetings for the purpose of working toward recovery from any sort of emotional difficulties. EA members are of diverse ages, races, economic statuses, social and educational backgrounds. The only requirement for membership is a desire to become well emotionally” (EA, 2017). EA provides members with a support system as well as a day-to-day programs to attend in order to help cope with strong emotions. Mostly, however, EA helps members find that they are not alone in their struggle. This resource can help me to support my work around cultural competence with people with mental health disorders as this group opens new doors to understanding emotions in a different way than I have in the past. Many members from the partial hospitalization program I work in have similar difficulties in processing emotions.

As my clients have voiced that they are afraid no one else understands what they are going through, this resource is a great 12-step program for understanding how to cope with strong emotions. This resource is also helpful to me as a social worker in my efforts to be culturally responsive , as while I learn about the program, I can better understand the difficulties some clients may go through with coping with their emotions. Learning more about EA will also help me to develop my skills in cultural humility as most of the time I think it is very easy for me to share my emotions so when I hear that someone is having a hard time sharing their emotions I think that it can be silly and maybe all they need to do is share. This resource can help me understand that it is not always that easy to share emotions and some people need extra support.

In summary, I feel that by taking the time to learn more about disability culture-specific resources, I may be able to be a better social worker for my clients with disabilities.

BIO photo
Sage Lucas, MSW Candidate at Salem State University (Note for screenreader: Image of a young white woman smiling, in a car)

Sage Lucas is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a Bachelors in Social Work, with minors in Criminal Justice and Psychology from Salem State University, and Sage also holds a certificate in Childhood Studies from Salem State University. She hopes to continue her career in social work, working in the mental health field. Ms. Lucas chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities because she found a gap in her knowledge as a social work, and wanted to be as well rounded a social worker as possible. Ms. Lucas can be reached at s_lucas1@salemstate.edu

Social work practice with a child with ADHD: Applying the medical and social models of disability

Graduate social work students working with Dr. Elspeth Slayter were asked to reflect on the ways in which they do their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were “under” the social model of disability. Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus of the model. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability?  Provide a case example and then describe how you would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

By Erica Chepulis, MSW Candidate

Salem State University

For my consideration of the medical and social models of disability as they relate to social work practice, I will describe a summer camp member who I worked with last summer, who I will call Nicholas. Nicholas is a 9-year-old boy who is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For Nicholas, his ADHD manifests as having a short attention span during activities, great fluctuations in emotions, and heightened sensitivity to loud noises or crowds.

The medical model views disabilities as “biological dysfunction[s]” and suggests that service professionals utilize interventions to try to “fix” the disability (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015, p.103). In contrast, the social model views disability as a result of the social and physical world that isolates and is not built to accommodate people with disabilities (Shakespeare, 2013). While there are many criticisms of the medical model due to its deficit-based perspective of people with disabilities, there are also criticisms of the social model. Weaknesses of the social model include its simplicity and its establishment by mainly white, heterosexual men with physical disabilities and spinal cord injuries, a group whose perspectives are not representative of collective population of people with disabilities (Shakespeare, 2013). Criticisms of the social model also include its lack of acknowledgement that disability can be an important part of people’s lives and identities, its definition of disability as inherent oppression, and its ideal vision of a barrier-free world which does not consider natural environmental barriers (Shakespeare, 2013).

The social model would be helpful in working with Nicholas by allowing me to understand that the routine and activities of our summer camp were designed with a bias toward non-disabled children. The social model would suggest that I adjust Nicholas’s schedule as well as plan more inclusive activities that would be safer for him and give him equal opportunity to succeed.

While the social model is more strengths-based and does not ask that Nicholas change something about himself, the medical model may be more helpful in a few ways. The social model suggests that the ideal world is one in which people with disabilities do not experience barriers in their daily lives; however, this model does not take into account non-human constructed barriers (Shakespeare, 2013). For instance, Nicholas has difficulty with sensory processing, so loud noises such as thunderstorms are stressful and upsetting to him. We were able to follow the social model and accommodate Nicholas by providing him with warning when we knew there would be loud sounds, making sure there was an exit nearby and a designated room he could sit in if the noises were overwhelming, and creating a safety plan regarding who would accompany him and what activities could be done to help him feel calm. However, the noise could still be bothersome to Nicholas and impact his functioning regardless of our plans. In this case, the medical model may be helpful in providing interventions that can be used to help him through this environmental barrier. If I were Nicholas’s clinician, I might suggest listening therapy or psychotherapy to help him in ways that he could not otherwise be accommodated by the physical and social world around him. The social model is certainly more strengths-based, but it may be helpful to supplement it with the medical model to ensure that all of the client’s needs are met.

Mackelprang, R.W. & Salsgiver, R.O. (2015). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). The social model of disability. In Ed., Davis, L. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader, Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge

Erica Chepulis is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a B.A. in Social Work from Wheelock College. She hopes to continue her career in working with youth in programs that support their educational, social, and emotional growth and encourage them to reach their full potential. Ms. Chepulis chose to study social work practice with people with disabilities to learn how to most effectively and respectfully advocate for youth with disabilities and their families. Ms. Chepulis can be reached at e_chepulis@salemstate.edu.