Disability Competency in Social Work Education: Tools for Practice Teaching
Social work education has been slow to integrate the intersectionality of disability, even though the prevalence of social work practice with disabled persons is increasing. The profession has historically prescribed to a medical model of disability and struggles with how best to support service users in the disability community. Social workers’ attitudes toward disabled persons is an essential component to the rapport and working relationship with persons with disabilities. As most social work graduates will encounter persons with disabilities in their practice, training and field education must incorporate assessment tools to assist in student evaluations with this population. Evidence suggests that field instructors need additional assessment tools for evaluating students’ preparedness for the field (Vinton & Wilke, 2011). This paper has three objectives: 1) to review disability competence within the social work profession in the North American context, 2) to compare the validity, practicality, and theoretical frameworks of two disability attitudinal scales as potential assessment tools for student evaluations, and 3) to offer recommendations for the implication of social work education and practice.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).
Beresford, P., & Boxall, K. (2012). Service users, social work education and knowledge for social work practice. Social Work Education, 31(2), 155–167.
Brown, T., Mu, K., Peyton, C. G., Rodger, S., Stagnitti, K., Hutton, E., . . . Wu, C. (2009). Occupational therapy students' attitudes towards individuals with disabilities: A comparison between Australia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30(6), 1541-1555.
Bu, P., Veloski, J. J., & Ankam, N. S. (2016). Effects of a brief curricular intervention on medical students’ attitudes toward people with disabilities in healthcare settings: American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 95(12), 939–945.
Carter, I., Hanes, R., & MacDonald, J. E. (2012). The inaccessible road not taken: The trials, tribulations and successes of disability inclusion within social work post-secondary education. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 1(1), 109.
Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW). (2005). Code of Ethics 2005. Retrieved from https://casw-acts.ca/sites/casw-acts.ca/files/documents/casw_code_of_ethics.pdf
Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE). (2014). Standards for accreditation. Retrieved from
Chadd, E. H., & Pangilinan, P. H. (2011). Disability attitudes in health care: A new scale instrument. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 90(1), 47–54.
Cheatham, L. P., Abell, N., & Kim, H. (2015). Development and validation of the social worker’s attitudes toward disability scale. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(2), 379–397.
Findler, L., Vilchinsky, N., & Werner, S. (2007). The multidimensional attitudes scale toward persons with disabilities (MAS): Construction and validation. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 50(3), 166-176.
Garrett, C., & Weisman, M. G. (2001). A self-psychological perspective on chronic illness. Clinical Social Work Journal, 29(2), 119–132.
Guyard, A., Michelsen, S. I., Arnaud, C., Lyons, A., Cans, C., & Fauconnier, J. (2012). Measuring the concept of impact of childhood disability on parents: Validation of a multidimensional measurement in a cerebral palsy population. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(5), 1594-1604.
Hall, G. B., Dollard, M. F., & Coward, J. (2010). Psychosocial safety climate: Development of the PSC-12. International Journal of Stress Management, 17(4), 353-383.
Holler, R., & Werner, S. (2018). Perceptions towards disability among social work students in Israel: Development and validation of a new scale. Health & Social Care in the Community, 26(3), 423-432.
MacDonald, J., Carter, I., Hanes, R., Skinner, S., & McMurphy, S. (2014). Disability and social work education in the United Kingdom. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 3(3), 53-82.
Mackelprang, R. W. (2010). Disability controversies: Past, present, and future. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation, 9(2), 87–98.
Martín, A., & Arregui, E. (2013). Development and validation of a scale to identify attitudes towards disability in Higher Education. Psicothema, 25(3), 370–376.
Maxwell, A. J., & Sullivan, N. (1980). Attitudes toward the geriatric patient among family practice residents. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 28(8), 341–345.
Meinert, R. (2010). Controversies and disputes in disability and rehabilitation. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation, 9(2-3), 69-72.
Mitra, M., Long-Bellil, L., Smeltzer, S., & Iezzoni, L. (2015). A perinatal health framework for women with physical disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 8(4), 499-506.
Monahan, K., & Lurie, A. (2003). Disabled women sexually abused in childhood: Treatment considerations. Clinical Social Work Journal, 31(4), 407–418.
Morin, D., Crocker, A. G., Beaulieu‐Bergeron, R., & Caron, J. (2013). Validation of the attitudes toward intellectual disability – ATTID questionnaire. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(3), 268–278.
National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2017). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from
Palad, Y. Y., Barquia, R. B., Domingo, H. C., Flores, C. K., Padilla, L. I., & Ramel, J. M. D. (2016). Scoping review of instruments measuring attitudes toward disability. Disability and Health Journal, 9(3), 354–374.
Prilleltensky, O. (2003). A ramp to motherhood: The experiences of mothers with physical disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 21(1), 21-47.
Power, M. J. & Green, A. M. (2010). The attitudes to disability scale (ADS): Development and psychometric properties. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 54(9), 860-874.
Rees, J., & Raithby, M. (2012). Increasingly strange bedfellows? An examination of the inclusion of disability issues in university- and agency-based social work education in a Welsh context. Social Work Education, 31(2), 184–201.
Regehr, C., Bogo, M., Donovan, K., Lim, A., & Regehr, G. (2012). Evaluating a scale to measure student competencies in macro social work practice. Journal of Social Service Research, 38(1), 100–109.
Reuben, D. B., Lee, M., Davis, J. W., Eslami, M. S., Osterweil, D. G., Melchiore, S., & Weintraub, N. T. (1998). Development and validation of a geriatrics attitudes scale for primary care residents. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 46(11), 1425–1430.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rothman, J. (2010). The challenge of disability and access: Reconceptualizing the role of the medical model. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation, 9(2-3), 194-222.
Scior, K. & Furnham, A. (2011). Development and validation of the intellectual disability literacy scale for assessment of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to intellectual disability. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(5), 1530-1541.
Shpigelman, C. (2015). How to support the needs of mothers with physical disabilities? Disability and Rehabilitation, 37, 928-935.
Stainton, T., Chenoweth, L., & Bigby, C. (2010). Social work and disability: An uneasy relationship. Australian Social Work, 63(1), 1–3.
Tarasoff, L. (2017). “We don’t know. We’ve never had anybody like you before”: Barriers to perinatal care for women with physical disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 10(3), 426-433.
UN General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 24 January 2007, A/RES/61/106. Retrieved from
Vinton, L., & Wilke, D. J. (2011). Leniency bias in evaluating clinical social work student interns. Clinical Social Work Journal, 39(3), 288–295.
Williams, R.J. & Rose, J.L. (2007). The development of a questionnaire to assess the perceptions of care staff towards people with intellectual disabilities who display challenging behaviour. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 11(12), 197–211.
Windsor, L. C., Shorkey, C., & Battle, D. (2015). Measuring student learning in social justice courses: The diversity and oppression scale. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(1), 58–71.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2011). World report on disability. WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf
Yorke, A., Ruediger, T., & Voltenburg, N. (2017). Doctor of physical therapy students’ attitudes towards people with disabilities: A descriptive study. Journal of Disability & Rehabilitation, 39(1), 91-97.