Social Work, Othering and Disability

Topics: Sociology, Developmental disability, Social work Pages: 6 (1846 words) Published: September 18, 2012

People who experience a disability are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups within our society. This essay will explain what disability is and what it means to have a disability. Disability can often be seen as a form of social deviance, and so, because of this, the disability community can be othered and excluded within mainstream society. This essay will give examples of how othering occurs and how othering could be avoided, when working as a social worker with people with disabilities. Social workers have an extremely important role in the lives of people with a disability. Social workers are often a person with a disability’s voice and advocate and they need to set an example for the rest of the community and its members so that people with a disability are treated with respect, dignity and worth.

Having a disability can be defined as a person that experiences physical and intellectual, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, the World Health Organization (2012), defines a disability as “An umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations”. Disability is seen world wide throughout many cultures and treated very differently. Within Australia 2-3% of the population have an intellectual disability, which is more than 100,000 people in Victoria (CDDH, 2008). Within Australia, people with disabilities receive a range of services and different types of funding and payments depending on their disability. People with disabilities are slowly becoming more accepted and tolerated within Australian society, however, at the same time, they are generally an oppressed group who are socially excluded. Stainton, Chenoweth, & Bigby (2010), have stated that people with disabilities remain one of the most marginalised groups in society with poverty, exclusion, and a constant struggle to be seen as equal, valued citizens. If we look back over history, the disability sector has come a long way, although, they still have a journey to undertake to get to a place of social justice.

I feel that people within the community are still very afraid and ignorant toward people with a disability. They become afraid because it is the unknown and the unpredictable. Disability can be seen as a form of social deviance, and this is what may create negative attitudes within different communities. Another view is the ‘pity’ view. People with disabilities and their carers are pitied. This is also a negative way to perceive the disability community as it reinforces that people with disabilities are below or beneath other members of the community and it places carers in a role of acting superhuman because they care for and manage the person with the disability.

When I put myself in a caring role to work with people with disabilities, I feel an overwhelming sense of the work is never done. I do not mean this in a negative way, I feel that people with a disability are extremely subordinated within their community and are not treated with enough respect and dignity, so I as a worker, feel that it would be my job to provide social inclusion for the person with a disability. Providing social justice in a holistic sense could do this, and this would be a difficult job as not all policies and legislation flow in the social justice direction for people with a disability. I feel that working with people with disabilities would be a rewarding and heart wrenching position all at the same time. However, It makes me feel elated to think that I could make a difference in the life of someone who is vulnerable and oppressed. My reaction to people with a disability comes from a place of watching...

References: Stainton, T, Chenoweth, L & Bigby, C. (2010). Social Work and Disability: An Uneasy Relationship. Australian Social Work, Volume 63, Issue 1, pages 1-3
Ellem, K & Wilson, J. (2010). Special Issue: On Social Work 's Contribution to Disability Policy and Practice Around the World. Life Story Work and Social Work Practice: A Case Study With Ex-Prisoners Labelled as Having an Intellectual Disability. Australian Social Work, Volume 63, 1, 67-82
CDDH. (2008). Centre for Developmental Disability Health Victoria: Working with people with intellectual disabilities in healthcare settings. Viewed on 5/9/2012, retrieved from:
Canales, K. (2010). Othering: Difference Understood?: A 10-Year Analysis and Critique of the Nursing Literature. Advances in Nursing Science. Volume 33(1), p 15–34.
Haller, B, Dorries, B & Rahn, J. (2006). Media labeling versus the US disability community identity: a study of shifting cultural language. Disability & Society, V21, 1, 61-75.
Logan, B & Chung, D (2001). Current social work practice in the fields of mental illness and intellectual disability: Changing service approaches to people with a disability?, Australian Social Work, 54:3, 31-42
WHO. (2012). Disabilities. Viewed on 5/9/2012. Retrieved from:
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