The Person Behind the Disability

Approximately 5% of Americans have a developmental disability. (DiNitto and McNeece, 2008, p. 220)


The World Health Organization defines disabilities as the lack of ability or restriction to perform an activity in the range or manner that is normal for humans. A developmental disability is chronic, permanent, and a severe enough condition of physical or mental impairment that requires lifelong professional services from many disciplines. It occurs before age 21, and results in major functional limitation in the areas of learning, self-care, self-sufficiency economically, language, mobility, and capacity for independent living. The term started appearing in federal legislation in the 1970s. (DiNitto and McNeece, 2008, p. 217-218)

Geraldo Rivera’s expose on the abusive practices that occurred in the Willowbrook State School, an institution for the mentally handicapped, sparked a discussion on how the mentally disabled were treated. Respecting the humanity of a person rather than seeing as their disability is the first step in the proper treatment of those who are different than us. (class notes)


In 1996, only 22% of BSW and MSW programs offered training on disabilities. 4% of those programs focused on specialization for working with people with disabilities. (DiNitto and McNeece, 2008, p. 234)

Instead of institutionalizing all people despite their level of impairment, the Chronic Care Model can help people find the appropriate care they need.



Sources: DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

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