In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Disabilities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Disability Studies and Social Work Resources
  • Approaches to Defining and Classifying Disability
  • Disability Networks and Organizations

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Social Work Disabilities
Joanna C. Rankin, Marcia H. Rioux, Ivan Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0134


This entry identifies resources relevant to the study of disability that are pertinent to the field of social work. Representative of the multidisciplinary, continuously evolving and wide-ranging literature encompassing the study of disability, the selected references map the intellectual themes present in this field. Major contributions and approaches used in the study of disability, associated issues, and emergent themes relevant to the field of social work are emphasized. The ways disability is studied, treated, and understood reflects a continuum of approaches defined by two major schools of thought that influence policy, programming, and professional practice: individual pathology and social pathology. These two conceptions of disability at some points intersect both philosophically and chronologically; however, the distinct features of each are widely asserted within specific disciplinary contexts. The selected readings, to a significant degree, represent these diverse approaches toward the study, treatment, and understanding of disability as either: 1) an individual pathology (biomedical and functional treatment) approached through technology, prevention, and rehabilitation, or 2) a social pathology (environmental and human rights approaches) addressed through the increased control of services and supports and human rights reforms. The cross-disciplinary nature of the study of disability is reflected through this diverse compilation of readings highlighting developing theoretical bases, social policy, emergent issues, and practical resources for scholars, students, and professional practitioners.

General Overviews

An excellent selection of references is available that provide comprehensive overviews of aspects of the study of disability. Barnes, et al. 2002 provides the most complete and straightforward overview of the development of disability studies, and this text is appropriate as an introduction for graduate or undergraduate courses. Albrecht, et al. 2001 offers a more comprehensive overview of debate in this field for students seeking a more in-depth analysis of the issues, and it is also appropriate for graduate students. For any students new to the study of disability, Rioux 2003 provides an insightful and clearly framed comparison of theoretical approaches used in the field. For those interested in theoretical content, Davis 2010 provides an excellent overview of the application of disability studies in other disciplines. Brown and Percy 2007 is the best text available for use in graduate and undergraduate courses focused on intellectual disability. Students seeking to challenge understandings of disability should read Linton 1998, which was the first work to provide a comprehensive investigation into disability studies as a discipline. Shakespeare 1998 links the study of disability with social science. Researchers and students conducting disability research should consult the Disability, Handicap and Society special issue on this topic.

  • Albrecht, Gary L., Katherine D. Seelman, and Michael Bury, eds. 2001. Handbook of disability studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    An edited collection of international perspectives that outlines emergent critical issues and debates in the field of disability studies. Highlights major areas of interest including policy, activism, and theoretical discussion.

  • Barnes, Colin, Len Barton, and Michael J. Oliver, eds. 2002. Disability studies today. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    A thorough introduction to the foundations of the expanding field of disability studies outlining key areas of concern and debate, with an emphasis on theoretical developments.

  • Brown, Ivan, and Marie Percy, eds. 2007. A comprehensive guide to intellectual & developmental disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

    Addresses core disability issues and interventions across the life-span, serving as a practical resource for undergraduate students, introductory courses, and service providers.

  • Davis, Lennard J., ed. 2010. The disability studies reader. 3d ed. New York: Routledge.

    This third edition provides as encompassing collection of introductory works in the field of disability studies. Up-to-date chapters offer insight into areas of cultural studies, literary criticism, sociology, biology, visual arts, and postcolonial studies.

  • Disability, Handicap and Society. 1992. Special issue: Researching disability. Disability, Handicap & Society 7.2.

    A special issue devoted to an exploration of issues and concerns in the realm of disability research. Articles cover concerns over representation, inclusion of disability issues, and voices and directions for future exploration and action.

  • Linton, Simi. 1998. Claiming disability: Knowledge and identity. Cultural Front Series. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    Defines disability through the societal meaning ascribed to it. Providing a groundbreaking challenge to traditional approaches to disability, the author represents a disability studies perspective demanding inclusion and people with disabilities as the representative voices in this realm.

  • Rioux, Marcia H. 2003. On second thought: Constructing knowledge, law, disability and inequality. In The human rights of persons with intellectual disabilities: Different but equal. Edited by Stanley S. Herr, Harold Hongju Koh, and Larry O. Gostin, 287–318. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An excellent resource that provides a clear introduction to the various approaches applied in the study of disability including individual and social pathologies.

  • Shakespeare, Tom, ed. 1998. The disability reader: Social science perspectives. London: Continuum.

    Shakespeare outlines the role of disability and equality from a social science perspective reviewing the roots of disability discrimination, key issues, and future directions for the study of disability.

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