Moving Beyond “Fixing” People: Social Work Practice with People with Disabilities

Working on a boarding high-school campus, I have the opportunity to be exposed to different students. During my first year, one student, in particular, stood out. J.M. was a breakout basketball star and had dreams of going to the N.B.A.

Unfortunately, in his junior year, he was in a terrible car accident and as a result was paralyzed from the waist down. Everyone on campus was affected by his accident because J.M. was such a bright presence on campus and when he came back, he was a different person. He was less interactive on campus and lost his love for basketball.

The adults who were working with him every day were so fixated on the medical model, they wanted to “fix” him as much as they could so he could be ‘normal’ again. They suggested to his mom to take him to the best doctors who specialize helping people who are paraplegic learn to walk through virtual reality. They were not focused on his direct needs because they did not ask him, and that was detrimental to his recovery.

In using the social-model informed practice, the adults working with J.M. should have discussed with him how he saw his recovery going. By placing the focus on him rather than his disability, J.M.’s confidence in recovering could have been more positive than negative. Indeed, disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare discusses the importance of focusing on the individual and not the impairment in order to create a confident space.

One of the limits in the social model approach, Shakespeare says, is the idea that individuals with disabilities should disregard their impairments. More specifically, the social model disavows both individual and medical approaches so much that it actually risks the suggestion that impairments are not the problem!

The medical model is helpful when we are utilizing action practices that are suggested by the person with the disability and not the people around them who are looking at it like a problem that needs to be corrected. As social workers, it will only benefit the clients we are working with if we are their advocates and find a balance between the medical model and the social model.

This essay was originally prepared for Dr. Elspeth Slayter’s social work practice with people with disabilities course at Salem State University’s School of Social Work  Graduate students were asked to reflect on the ways in which they approach their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were “under” the social model of disability.

Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the part of the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability? Provide a case example and then describe how you could/do/would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

Is Your Spouse The Next Walter White?

By Deborah Nguyen

Walter White

Walter White, the fictional character of Breaking Bad fame, has quickly become the antihero that people couldn’t avoid loving. In reality, however, life isn’t always like it’s portrayed on television. While the difficulties that White faced were extreme, it’s often the family of a criminal who ends up hurt, both physically and emotionally.

While it’s hard to say just how many people have spouses who are drug dealers, the reality of the situation is that a drug arrest happens every 17 seconds in America. With these types of numbers, it’s imperative for those who suspect a spouse of criminal activity to know what they’re up against.

Domestic Violence

One of the most serious risks that a person faces when their partner is engaged in criminal activity is from the spouse themselves. This is especially the case when the person in question is not just trafficking drugs but using them. Drugs such as benzodiazepine (Valium), cocaine, crack, meth and anabolic steroids can all increase aggression in a person. Sadly, as was the case with wrestler Chris Benoit, this can lead to violent and sometimes deadly outcomes for a user’s spouse.

A person engaged in criminal activity, however, doesn’t have to be on drugs to be violent. Simply being involved in such a stressful atmosphere can lead to violent behavior. One of the main precursors for domestic violence, for instance, is displaced anger. This occurs when a person showcases anger or acts violently towards a subject who is not actually the cause of their anger. This displaced anger can lead to repeated physical abuse in a relationship.

Other Risk Factors

Even if a person has the most mild-mannered spouse in the world, his criminal activity puts his family’s safety at risk. His colleagues may not always be so concerned about the welfare of his family. As a matter of fact, families stand the risk of being used as a bargaining chip, or are seen as a liability, when complications occur in the illicit goings on. This was portrayed in the movie Alpha Dog which told the true story of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz being kidnapped and murdered over drug money that his half-brother owed.

There are a few options of recourse that a person has when their spouse has put them into danger. One option could be developing a safety plan in order to protect yourself and your family in advance. Contacting the national domestic violence hotline to obtain information and identify resources may help you process the chaos around you. Also, you may want to consult a divorce attorney to see what options are available to dissolve the relationship.

Getting Out Alive

The first step to getting out of these situations with your level head intact is recognizing that there is an issue. If you don’t know where the source of income springs from, this could be an immediate red flag that something suspicious is going on. Do your research and start collecting financial information and by performing a criminal history check.

If you find out the whole ugly truth to be real, be prepared to walk away. You have to ensure your and your children’s safety. But you probably don’t know the extent that his influence reached within his business colleagues. Your future could be wrought with danger. No level of criminal activity is safe, so getting out as quickly as possible is the only safe recourse.

While watching the character Walter White was undoubtedly enjoyable for millions of people, the realities of living a life that is funded by illegal drugs is undoubtedly accompanied by many risks.

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