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Switzer, Mary Elizabeth  

Larraine M. Edwards

Mary Elizabeth Switzer (1900–1971) was an administrator who became head of the Social and Rehabilitation Service in 1967. She influenced the evolution and expansion of federally funded services to those in need and improved services to people with disabilities.


Autism Spectrum Disorder  

Sandy Magaña and Lauren Bishop

Autism spectrum disorder is a heritable, developmental disability that is characterized by challenges with social communication and the presence of restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior. Autism spectrum disorder affects development and quality of life from very early development through old age. Social workers play a number of different roles in supporting and advocating for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. It is important that social workers understand the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder, how it manifests throughout the lifespan, and challenges faced by families affected by ASD.


Intellectual Disabilities  

Leah Igdalsky

Social workers working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families require an understanding of the disabilities themselves as well as the larger context of disability in society. Individuals with disabilities face particular risks for poverty and poor healthcare, and it is essential for social workers to understand the complex web of social services available. Furthermore, social workers often work not only with the person with a disability but also with their caregiving families.


Disability Theory in Context  

Jasmine P. Brown and Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar

The condition of disability and disabled persons in society has shifted and transformed throughout time and history with the rise of medical interventions, capitalism, and disability advocacy. This article discusses the different theories and models that have dominated the study of disability and further explains the contributions of disability theory on disability identity, as well as the intersection of disability and race. Also, with the rise of the social model ideals, there has been an increase in advocacy and empowerment within the disability community. This article concludes with an overview of advocacy and empowerment interventions for and with individuals with disabilities and recommendations for future research in sociology.


Disability: Neurocognitive Disabilities  

Lisa S. Patchner and Kevin L. DeWeaver

The multiplicity of disability definitions can be attributed to the heterogeneity of disability, its multifactoral nature, and its effects across the life span. Of particular concern to the social work profession are those persons with neurocognitive disabilities. Neurocognitive disabilities are ones where a problem with the brain or neural pathways causes a condition (or conditions) that impairs learning or mental/physical functioning or both. Some examples are intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and savant syndrome. Neurocognitive disabilities are the most difficult to diagnose often times because of their invisibility. Providing services for people with neurocognitive disabilities is very difficult, and people with these disabilities are among the most vulnerable populations in today's society. This entry discusses neurocognitive disabilities and current and future trends in social work disability practice.



Diana M. DiNitto

This entry defines comorbidity and similar terms used in various fields of practice. It addresses the prevalence of comorbidity, suggests explanations for comorbidity, and discusses integrated treatment for comorbid conditions and the importance of the concept of comorbidity in social work practice.


Disability: Physical Disabilities  

Mary Ann Clute

Physical disability is traditionally defined by society's view of atypical function. The medical model offers information on factors contributing to physical disability, including genetics, injury, and disease. The social model of disability, however, defines the societal responses, not the physical differences, as disabling. People with physical disabilities have unique characteristics and experiences that fall into the broad range of human diversity. They belong as full participants in society. Social workers must focus on working in respectful partnerships with people with physical disabilities to change environments and attitudes. This will help build a just society that honors diversity. This entry addresses multiple factors that cause disability, from genetics to environment, as viewed through the medical model. The social model view of “the problem” is offered in comparison. It also introduces the wide diversity of people with physical disability. The entry discusses two major societal responses to physical disability. Environmental modification is one approach. A more recent approach, Universal Access, involves upfront design of environments to meet diverse needs. The final sections explain implications for social workers and lays groundwork for action. Creating access and respectful partnerships are foundations of the work ahead. It is difficult to define physical disability without situating the discussion in the model used to view and deal with human diversity. This discussion is based on the social model of disability, a view of disability that sees the environment as disabling, not the individual condition. Discussion of the medical model is offered as a contrast. (For a more complete discussion of disability models, see Mackelprang's Disability: An Overview in this publication.)


Blindness and Visual Impairment  

Adrienne Asch and Nancy R. Mudrick

Significant visual impairment affects ~8 million Americans, 1.8 million of whom are blind and must find nonvisual methods of performing life roles. Social workers should not assume that people with visual impairment or blindness are unable to work, have families, or engage in sports or travel, or that vision limitations are necessarily a part of every presenting problem. Key roles for social workers include assisting in access to services and training and advocacy to combat discrimination and exclusion.


Supplemental Security Income  

Shawn A. Cassiman and Sandy Magaña

This entry provides an overview of the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, including a discussion of who is eligible for benefits, benefit levels, and program administration. The history of the program is provided and the impact of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act on SSI is discussed. Current policy challenges and policy relevance to social work practitioners and educators are considered.


Interventions for Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome  

Michelle S. Ballan, Molly Burke Freyer, and Lauren Powledge

Evidence-based interventions for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are explored, and trends and changes in the diagnosis of ASD in the United States are examined. Evidence-based interventions in various settings and modalities are discussed, with detailed descriptions of several effective evidence-based interventions including joint attention training, video modeling, story-based interventions, and activity schedules. The integral role of social workers in the lives of children with ASD in multiple settings, particularly the classroom, is emphasized. Social work must be vigilant to keep pace with the ever-changing field of autism, with its frequent improvements in understanding, diagnosis, and treatment.


Accommodating Students with Physical Disabilities in Higher Education  

Anna Escamilla

Students with disabilities are becoming more and more common in higher education classrooms, including social work classrooms. The challenges that come with accommodating students so as to allow equal access to the educational experience are surmountable with the assistance of student disability offices. New technology is being developed to assist students with learning both in and out of the classroom. Supportive attitudes from faculty in including students with disabilities allow all students to benefit from the experience. As compliance with laws such as the ADA becomes commonplace for new construction, the concept of universal design makes inclusion a norm.


Vigilante, Joseph  

Michael Reisch

Joseph Vigilante (1925–2005) made contributions to the fields of international social work and neighborhood-based social services and promoted the rights of people with developmental and learning disabilities. He became Dean of Adelphi's School of Social Work in 1962.


Disability Rights  

Patricia Findley

The role of disability rights has developed and evolved over the course of the United States’ history. The definition of disability has broadened as well as the pursuit for equal treatment, inclusion, and more accessible environments. Key pieces of legislation such as the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act demonstrate a course of steps toward these more empowering themes of independence for those with disabilities. Disability advocates are strong in their message of “nothing about us, without us.” The disability rights movement helped to propel culture shifts and has promoted inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Despite the intention of disability policy to move the nation to more accessible, inclusive, and less discriminatory environments, more work is still needed to support the rights of those with disabilities.


Mental Health: Overview  

Catherine G. Greeno

Mental illnesses are very common; more than one-quarter of people will develop a mental illness during their lifetime. Mental illnesses are associated with substantial disability in work, relationships, and physical health, and have been clearly established as one of the leading causes of disability in the developing, as well as the industrialized world. Mental disorders are common in every service sector important to social workers, and affect outcomes in every service sector. Mental disorders are strongly associated with poverty worldwide, and are common and often unrecognized in the general health sector, child welfare, and criminal justice settings, among others. Basic information about mental health is thus important to all social workers. Information about classification systems and major categories of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders, and substance abuse disorders, is presented. The service system for mental disorders is badly underdeveloped, and most people who need treatment do not receive it. There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating effective treatments, and policy is moving toward requiring that treatments offered be evidence based. This is a period of a great explosion of knowledge about mental health, and we can expect considerable advances in the coming years.


Vocational Services  

Lauren B. Gates

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, provided through a jointly funded state–federal rehabilitation system and available in each state, help people with disabilities prepare for, secure, and sustain employment. Since 1920, VR Programs have helped 10 million individuals with disabilities reach employment. Anyone with a mental or physical disability is eligible for VR services. While a range of services is provided, the services most consistent with VR goals are those, such as supported employment, that promote full integration into community life. Social workers are essential to community-based VR services; however, a challenge for the profession is to assume new roles to meet best practice vocational standards.


Students’ Rights  

Elizabeth Palley

To help their clients and to further the goal of “challeng[ing] social injustice,” all social work practitioners must be aware of students’ rights. Though school law is largely regulated by states, there are some overarching federal laws and Constitutional provisions that provide rights to all students. This article includes a review of the major federal laws and cases that affect students’ rights.


Altmeyer, Arthur J.  

Jean K. Quam

Arthur J. Altmeyer (1891–1972) was an administrator in Washington, DC from 1934 to 1953. He was a leader of social welfare policy and helped design and implement the Social Security Act of 1935.


Anderson, Delwin M.  

Kenneth S. Carpenter

Delwin M. Anderson (1916–2007) was director of the Social Work Service in the Veteran's Administration from 1964 to 1974. In his work he laid stress on recognizing the social components of illness and physical injury.


Global Health  

Jessica Euna Lee

Within its 150-year history, public health has grown from a focus on local communities to include countrywide, then international, and now global perspectives. Drawing upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, this article provides an overview of global public health within the broadest possible context of the world and all of its peoples. Also provided are the global burden of disease as measured in disability-adjusted life years, global health statistics, current health priorities, and recommendations for action by social workers and other health professionals.



Dawn Apgar

Characteristics associated with contemporary definitions of disabilities have existed in the human population from earliest recorded history. However, societal views on disability and those who have them have varied greatly over time. Disability has been viewed as a blessing from deity or the deities, a punishment for sin, or a medical condition. Social workers have worked with people with disabilities from the inception of the profession and have critical roles in the prevention and treatment of disabilities. Practice is driven by the promotion of the core values of the profession, including the dignity and worth of all people. Social workers recognize that variability in physical and cognitive abilities should not compromise access to opportunities and human rights. Social and political action focused on people with disabilities aim to promote inclusion, foster self-determination, and fight discrimination. Despite increasing services and policies to promote the well-being of people with disabilities, significant income, employment, housing, and quality of life issues still exist for those with disabilities. Macro social work practice is greatly needed to ensure that laws, organizations, and policies do not marginalize or oppress based on varying physical and/or intellectual abilities. Social work’s focus on policy and community development is well suited for reforming existing structures that prevent people with disabilities from achieving full integration within schools, work settings, and community living. Macro social work methods are needed to ensure that quality supports are provided to those with disabilities, to maximize their well-being and participation in all aspects of society.