An Empowerment Philosophy for Rehabilitation in the 20th Century

By Emener, William G. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, October-December 1991 | Go to article overview

An Empowerment Philosophy for Rehabilitation in the 20th Century


Emener, William G., The Journal of Rehabilitation


The field of rehabilitation, its systems, agencies, facilities, companies, and especially its rehabilitation professionals, individually and collectively share major responsibilities in responding to the needs of the estimated 34 million individuals with disabilities in the United States. For purposes of addressing the primary phenomena of this paper, rehabilitation is defined as "a process of helping handicapped individuals move from positions of dependency in their community toward positions of independency in a community of their choice" (Emener, Patrick & Hollingsworth, 1984, p.6). Furthermore, the following considerations of "empowerment" presume some of rehabilitation's basic, a priori, philosophical assumptions such as those articulated by Dowd and Emener (1978):

First, the profession has consistently held the belief that each individual is of great worth and dignity. Second, rehabilitation professionals have maintained that every person should have equal opportunity to maximize his or her potential and is deserving of societal help in attempting to do so. Third, the rehabilitation profession assumes that people by and large strive to grow and change in positive directions, reflecting both traditional American optimism and the belief in human perfectability characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment. Fourth, the rehabilitation profession assumes that individuals should be free to make their own decisions about the management of their lives (p. 35).

Thus, pertinent empowerment issues such as locus of control (Lefcourt, 1976), especially in terms of the roles and functions of rehabilitation professionals (Emener & Cottone, 1989), are critically contingent upon rehabilitation's a priori philosophical tenets. For example, Condeluci (1989) poignantly offered that "the concept of community integration and the empowerment model have their roots in social vaporization, right to choose and risk, individualization and consumer control" (p. 16). There are, however, other critical aspects of rehabilitation theory and philosophy which also are germane to considerations of empowerment.

There are numerous divergent positions regarding the interface between what people "need" versus what people "want". For example, the author of this paper frequently has felt that what some people need is to learn that they cannot always have what they want. What does "independence" mean for an individual with a severe disability--especially if considerations are given to the vicissitudes of economic independence, functional independence, social independence and psychological independence. Similar considerations also are pertinent to the concept of "freedom". Perhaps independence is sine qua non to freedom. Nonetheless, if rehabilitation professionals are dedicated to issues of individual independence and freedom on behalf of individuals with disabilities, then it indeed would appear fitting to assure that "empowerment" is a critical construct and guiding operational value within rehabilitation's systems, agencies, facilities, companies and professional service delivery personnel.

Empowerment

The process of empowering an individual or a system, means "to give power or authority to; to authorize; as, the president is empowered to veto legislation" (Webster, 1978, p. 595). Thus, the rehabilitation professional committed to an empowerment approach to rehabilitation service delivery, should facilitate and maximize opportunities for individuals with disabilities to have control and authority over their own lives. This approach involves modifications and controls both internal and external to the individual. For example, as an individual with a severe disability it is important for me to be internally empowered--I should be helped to empower myself so that I see myself as being powerful, and in a position of authority, over my own life. To a great extent, empowerment is a mind-set. Likewise, from an external point of view, the laws, rules and regulations governing aspects of my life also should be designed to accommodate my self-empowerment (Hahn, 1982, 1985). …

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