Social Work Practice with People with Disabilities

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I. Societal Responses to Disability
1.How the perceived cause of disability affects societies response. 2.Personal examples of societal response to disability.

II. Social Workers and People with Disabilities
1.Service systems designed to address issues specific to disability. 2.Personal thoughts on the service systems design to help the disabled.

III. The Ecosystems Model and People with Disability
1.Individual
2.Family
3.Culture
4.Environmental-Structural
5.Historical

Societal Responses to Disability
The way a society responds to disability is influenced by its perceptions about causes of disability, the threats that it perceives to be related to the disability, and the amount and kinds of resources that are available to deal with the disability. People of ancient times believe that any sickness indicated the displeasure of the gods. Those with mental disorders were viewed as being either divine or demonic, depending on the behavior. Individuals seen as divine were worshipped and adored; those seen as demonic were ostracized, punished and sometimes burned at the stake. Later, Aristotle attempted to relate mental disorders to physical disorders and developed his theory that the amounts of blood, water and yellow and black bile in the body controlled the emotions. These four substances, or humors, corresponded with happiness, calmness, anger and sadness. Imbalances of the four humors were believed to cause mental disorders, so treatment was aimed at restoring balance through bloodletting, starving, and purging. In early Christian times, primitive beliefs and superstitions were strong. All diseases were again blamed on demons, and the mentally ill were viewed as possessed. Priest performed exorcisms to rid evil spirits. When that failed, they used more severe and brutal measures, such as incarcerations in dungeons, flogging and starving. . When society was seen as the cause, there was increased pressure for society to provide solutions. Services for people with disabilities have been afforded first to soldiers injured in war because societal responsibility was clear. The United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world. This benefits system traces its roots back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims passed a law which stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. The Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War by providing pensions for soldiers who were disabled. Direct medical and hospital care given to veterans in the early days of the Republic was provided by the individual States and communities. In 1811, the first domiciliary and medical facility for veterans was authorized by the Federal Government. In the 19th century, the Nation's veteran’s assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans, but also their widows and dependents. Society also responds differently to specific impairments based on perceived cause. People with mental retardation or congenital disorders are not usually faulted for their disorder therefore willingness from the public to provide services are relatively high. Mental illness or chemical dependency, which is still perceived by many as a character flaw, receives less public attention and support even though these cases far exceed the number of mental retardation cases. The potential threat of a disability can also greatly influence societal response. For example let’s compare the polio scare of the 1940’s early 50’s with the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic. The cause of Polio is consider “guilt free” but has a substantial threat. The response from volunteers and the government to eradicate this disease was significant. The March of Dimes was also born in efforts to destroy the disease.

In contrast, those who were...
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