Psychology of Disability

Psychology of Disability

Psychology of Disability

Psychology of Disability


The realities surrounding the psychological experience of disability, plus the intervention techniques used to resolve some of the problems, have changed dramatically since the publication of the first edition of this classic text. This revised edition describes changes that have come out of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as technological advances, new legislation, and evolving health care systems. It addresses the growing interest in racial and ethnic diversity, and includes an exploration of spirituality and disability, as well as a look at new partnerships, such as within the community, that have developed.


It has been said that everyone is like all of the other people in the world in some ways, like those in similar groups in some ways, and like no other person who has ever lived in some ways (Leong, 1996). Dangers inhere in acknowledging the validity of the concept "the psychology of disability," since, in the past, it has led to unhelpful exaggerations of the perceived differences between people with disabilities and those without. The fact is, human beings are more alike than different, regardless of variances in their physical bodies, sensory capacities, or intellectual abilities. To illustrate, a disabled person is said to experience a sense of loss over the functional abilities that an illness or injury has destroyed. Similarly, a nondisabled person may experience a sense of loss over something she or he once had and now has lost. The stimulus is different, but the sense of loss, the fear that life will be painful or meaningless without the lost element, are virtually the same. Viewed in this light, the psychology of disability is little different from the psychology of being human.

The definition of the psychology of disability underlying the material in this book is considered here to be largely, though not entirely, the study of how human organisms respond to a set of stimulus conditions associated with disability. Stated somewhat differently, it is a study of normative responses from (psychologically) normal organisms to abnormal stimuli.

Some of these abnormal stimuli are biological, such as being paralyzed. Some are environmental, such as inaccessible entrances. Others are social, such as having a salesperson ask your companion, not you, what size you wear. Not being able to get a job is an economic example. Some stimuli are obvious, such as a restroom door you can't get through, while others are subtle, like people not using the work "handicapped" when you are around. Some are pleasant, such as being allowed to enter an airplane first. Some are unpleasant, such as not being able to use the restroom on a long flight. Pages could be filled with such examples, which in itself illustrates the unusual stimulus situation the disabled person is in: a continual flow of perceptions and experiences that cannot be validated by the majority of people around one. Thus, isolation and lack of consensus for one's ideas and feelings are added to the list of unusual stimulus conditions. And so it goes.

Following from this, the psychology of disability becomes bifurcated as an applied science. One branch is a rather typical applied behavioral science . . .

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