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Castification of people with disabilities: potential disempowering aspects of classification in disability services.

The classification schema and social institutions (e.g., rehabilitation services, special education) developed to understand and assist individuals with disabilities may also contribute to social exclusion and limitation of opportunities. The premise of this paper is developed through a discussion of the anthropological construct of castification, which describes differential, institutional exploitation of some minorities with resultant assignment of lower social status. Problematic and potentially castifying consequences of the caste typology in cultural ecology are discussed and compared to classification practices in disability services. The following topics are addressed: (a) models of disability and disability services, (b) castification process and theories, (c) castification in disability services, (d) professional power considerations in castification, and (e) an example of castification through a campus disability policy.

People with disabilities are a heterogeneous group of individuals whose disabilities affect their lives in different ways. Similarly, people of racial and ethnic minority groups demonstrate considerable within group and between group variability. Nonetheless, both individuals with disabilities (Fine & Asch, 1988) and persons of racial and ethnic minority groups (Trueba, 1993a) may face common social problems of stigma, marginality, and discrimination. A central tenet of this discussion is that at least some of the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities are not the result of functional impairments related to the disability, but rather are the result of a castification process embedded in societal institutions for rehabilitation and education and enforced by well meaning professionals. To develop this premise, we will examine issues related to the social impact of both disability and minority status through the following topics: (a) models of disability and disability services, (b) castification process and theories, (c) castification in disability services, (d) professional power considerations in castification, and (e) an example of castification through a campus disability policy.

Models of Disability and Disability Services

Disability and related terms (e.g., stigma) are broad concepts that are constructed differently by various stakeholders (Goffman, 1963; Skrtic, 1991; Stubbins, 1991). The particular construction or definition of disability applied by a group appears to relate to the special interests or skills of the defining group (McKnight, 1977; Stubbins, 1991). For example, rehabilitation psychologists tend to define disability in terms of specific psychological aspects that are diagnosable and can be addressed by therapy; independent living specialists often define disability in terms of the environmental barriers (physical or attitudinal); and special educators may consider disability in terms of the difficulties encountered in learning.

A variety of approaches to understanding disability currently exist. Hahn has suggested the sequential evolution and current existence of (a) the medical model, which focuses on functional impairments; (b) the economic perspective, which emphasizes vocational limitations; and (c) the socio-political model, in which disability is viewed as a product of the interactions of the individual with the environment (Hahn, 1985; 1988). In addition to those identified by Hahn, socio-cultural and legal models of disability are suggested by recent literature. Specifically, the recent rediscovery of Vygotsky's socially-based learning theories has suggested cultural and social components in the construction of disability (Trueba, 1993a; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993; Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993). Similarly, federal legislation and regulations, including the early white cane laws, the recent Americans with Disabilities Act, and Workers' Compensation laws have added legal aspects to the definition of disability (Cook, 1991; Jenkins, Patterson, & Szymanski, 1992).

Different definitions of disability currently coexist (Hahn, 1985), and, unfortunately, professionals are often unaware of those perspectives that lie outside their specific discipline (Stubbins, 1991). On a disciplinary level, different definitions appear to inhibit the multidisciplinary collaboration necessary to address the broader social aspects of disability that affect the daily lives of individuals (Stubbins, 1991). On a programmatic level, the result of these multiple orientations is "disabled policy" (Berkowitz, 1987), characterized by often conflicting programs, which are part of an "institutional landscape and make the process of reform more difficult" (Berkowitz, 1985, p. 11). Three currently existing programs, which reflect different definitions of disability, are the state-federal rehabilitation program, the special education program, and the independent living movement.

The state-federal rehabilitation program follows a traditional rehabilitation process model, which is characterized by four phases: evaluation, planning, treatment, and termination (Rubin & Roessler, 1987). The evaluation phase includes documentation of a disability and determination that the disability is likely to present an impediment to employability (Mandeville & Brabham, 1992). Although recent legislation and philosophical stances in the rehabilitation counseling profession have suggested that rehabilitation consumers should have an active role in the process (Mandeville & Brabham, 1992; Rehabilitation Act Amendments, 1992; B. Wright, 1983), the process still appears to remain firmly under the control of the professional who often has the power to determine whether a person with a disability is eligible to participate in a program or receive some form of benefit.

Federally legislated special education programs follow similar processes to rehabilitation (e.g., evaluation, planning, intervention). However, unlike rehabilitation services, special education is considered to be an entitlement program open to any school age person with a disability who needs special instruction as a result of the disability (Szymanski, Hanley-Maxwell, & Asselin, 1992). As in rehabilitation, the special education process remains under the control of the professional (Nisbet, Covert, & Schuh, 1992; Skrtic, 1991).

The independent living movement, which emerged from multiple social movements of the 1970s, including civil rights, consumerism, and demedicalization, differs significantly from the rehabilitation and special education programs. Independent living services are consumer driven with a focus on access to societal benefits and independence (DeJong, 1979).

According to the independent living paradigm, the problem does not reside in the individual; it often resides in the solution offered by the rehabilitation paradigm, which contains the dependency inducing potential of the physician-patient or professional-client relationship. The locus of the problem is not the individual, but the environment that tends to limit the choices available to people with disabilities. (Nosek, 1992)

Two key differences emerge in the three models described -- the underlying view of disability and the role of the professional. The special education and rehabilitation models are clearly based on the medical and economic models of disability, which address objectively definable disability states that can only be diagnosed and remediated by qualified professionals (Salifos-Rothschild, 1976; Skrtic, 1991). In contrast, the independent living model is based on a socio-political view of disability as a problem residing outside of the individual that must be understood from an individual frame of reference (Roth, 1985) and that is often exacerbated by professional control (Nosek, 1992).

Interestingly, however, despite differences in perception of the nature of disability and the value of professional interventions, the models appear to share a common approach. Whether the discussions emanate from the positivist approaches of rehabilitation and special education or the more phenomenological approaches of independent living, they often focus on the individual as a unit of analysis with tangential consideration of the interaction of individuals in societies and cultures. The problem with these approaches is that such specificity of focus often misses the dynamic nature of action in which actors (e.g., individuals with disabilities, professionals) cannot be considered separately from their actions, the audiences or recipients of the actions, the cultural and social context of the action, and other current and historical contexts surrounding the action (Wertsch, 1991).

Disability is known to be very much of a social and cultural phenomena (Arokiasamy, Rubin, & Roessler, 1987; Scott, 1969; Skrtic, 1991; B. Wright, 1983). And, many people with disabilities share a common status of disadvantage with racial and ethnic minority groups (Hahn, 1988; Stubbins, 1988). Thus, it seems that disability and disability services must be examined in the larger context of social and cultural forces. For this reason, the next section is devoted to discussion of the anthropological theories relating to castification.

Castification Process and Theories

People with disabilities often share a common status of marginality with members of racial and ethnic minority groups. In fact, this common status was part of the rationale for Hahn's introduction of the minority group model of disability (1985, 1988). When considering the disadvantaged or marginal state of specific minority groups, the question arises as to why some groups are marginalized and other groups are not. Castification is a construct that has been used in anthropology to explain the process of differential marginalization. Although, like disability, castification can be defined in different ways, we have chosen the following definition for the current discussion.

Castification is fundamentally an institutionalized way of exploiting one social group (ethnic, racial, low-income, or other minority group), thus reducing this group to the status of a lower caste that cannot enjoy the same rights and obligations possessed by the other groups. (Trueba, 1993a, p. 30)

The cultural myths invented to castify and thus rationalize abuse of power are nothing new in history. The Europeans who conquered the new world attempted for centuries to defend the notion that natives from the American continent did not have the same human value (human soul) comparable to those of the Europeans. Slavery, rape, and forced labor become permissible on the grounds of the fundamental "spiritual difference" between Europeans and non-Europeans, as well as on the grounds that civilization and redemption (cultural and religious beliefs) would eventually result from European conquest and domination (Trueba, 1993a). Similarly, policies of institutionalization and sterilization of persons with disabilities were often justified by myths about the value of people with disabilities and the need to protect society (Arokiasamy et al., 1987; Cook, 1991).

Racial and ethnic problems and debates in Europe and in America seem to repeat history. Consider, for example, the waves of hatred in Europe and the myths of racial superiority among certain Europeans. The roots of the myth of Aryan superiority that eventually produced the Jewish Holocaust of Hitler's Germany are found in the "unilineal cultural evolution" themes of nineteenth century social evolutionary theories (Suarez-Orozco, 1993), which are still evident in European and American society. For example, the majority of poor children in the United States are victims of xenophobia, which has many expressions and reflects a profound racism of white America.

Expressions of xenophopia are often at the root of social movements, such as Neo-Naziism, monolingualism and monocultural policies (e.g., the English Only Movement), the Klu-Klux-Klan, and the Moral Majority. In the view of many members of these movements, pluralistic policies, such as, the funding of education in the home languages of ethnic groups and the use of affirmative action criteria to implement fair employment policies (policies that reflect the ethnic composition of the labor force) are unacceptable (Trueba, 1993a). It is suspected that similar sentiments accompany implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Poverty in the United States is not only a disgraceful manifestation of castification processes, but a clear example of how lack of equity in employment, education, and social services condemns generations of ethnic minority children and their families to a status of underclass, of second class citizenship. For example, in 1989, 2.6 million Latino children (out of the total 4.2 million Latino children) were under the poverty level, and lived in urban and suburban areas (not in rural areas). The 1989 frequency of children living in poverty among the various Latino groups was 48.4% for Puerto Ricans, 37.1% for Mexicans, and 26.1% for Central and South Americans (Trueba, 1993a). Similarly, although people with disabilities "account for 13.5% of the population, [they] are represented at the lowest income group at nearly double this proportion, and are severely underrepresented in the highest income group" (Storck & Thompson-Hoffman, 1991, p. 31). Although ethnic minorities are overrepresented in populations of persons with disabilities (Storck & Thompson-Hoffman, 1991; T. Wright & Leung, 1993), this overrepresentation does not appear to fully account for the concomitant poverty.

The tolerance that Americans demonstrate for poverty is related to biological determinism. According to Jonathan Kozol, many white Americans stereotype blacks as being intrinsically inferior:

When they hear of all these murders, all these men in prison, all these women pregnant with no husbands, they don't buy the explanation that it's poverty, or public schools, or racial segregation. They say, "We didn't have much money when we started out, but we led clean and decent lives. We did it. Why can't they?"..."They don't have it." (Kozol, 1991, p. 192).

The flat and direct statement, "They don't have it," is the most emphatic return to a biological determinism, perhaps under the cover of a new cultural determinism. This is important to consider in the light of the most popular literature regarding low achievement of minority groups, groups described as "castelike." Following the refutation of last century' s biological determinism (based on "unilineal cultural evolution") led by Franz Boas (1916, 1928) and his colleagues, anthropology saw a kind of psychological determinism creep in and then be refuted. Is this new "cultural" determinism creeping once more into theoretical discussions of differential minority achievement?

Cultural ecology, one of the most vigorous and visible statements on castification coming from cultural anthropologists, has paradoxically evolved into a kind of cultural determinism (Foley, 1991; Trueba, 1988b, 1991, 1993a). John Ogbu and his colleagues (1974, 1978, 1987, 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 1992; Ogbu & Matute-Bianchi, 1986; Matute-Bianchi, 1991; Gibson & Ogbu, 1991) developed a typology to explain deferential performance of minority groups through classification according to the following categories: autonomous, immigrant, and castelike. Small groups who may or may not have a "distinctive" ethnic identity and who are successful in school (e.g., Jews, Mormons) were considered to be autonomous minorities. Minority groups who came to the United States for better economic, political, or overall situations, and who, despite cultural differences, did not demonstrate lasting, disproportionate school failure were classified as immigrant minorities (e.g., Chinese in Stockton, California; Punjabi Indians in Valleyside, California). And, minorities "who were originally brought into United States society involuntarily through slavery, conquest, or colonization" (Ogbu, 1987, p. 321) were classified as castelike (Ogbu, 1987).

Although Ogbu's typology helped to explain the barriers faced by castelike minorities, its major flaw was the circular reasoning that accompanied the use of the hypothetical construct, castelike personality, to explain the behavior of entire groups. The circularity of this explanation was similar to that noted in psychology by Ebel (1974) in the use of the hypothetical constructs of intelligence and motivation to explain behavior. When hypothetical constructs grounded in a dominant culture are used to explain the behavior of members of a minority group, it is not surprising that the results emphasize difference and deviance.

The flaw of circular reasoning in cultural ecology is exemplified when one considers the achievements of many members of involuntary groups who indeed succeed and retain their ethnic identity. In this respect, the assumptions presented in Ogbu's typology seem theoretically weak or even faulty, and historically undemonstrable, especially if applied to highly heterogeneous ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Hawaiians, and American Indians, among many others in the United States.

The discussion of castification in this paper was predicated on the observation of the authors that people with disabilities often experience the same types of differential social exclusion experienced by members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Indeed, as demonstrated in the next section, many scholars have discussed the disempowering or castifying roles of the social institutions addressing disability (see e.g., Cove, 1976; Salifos-Rothschild, 1976; Scott, 1969; Stubbins, 1988). Interestingly, it seems that cultural determinists defend their positions as dogmas with the same passion that disability professionals defend their taxonomies of disabilities and therapeutic interventions.

Castification in Disability Services

Castification processes, as described in the previous section, seem to have their roots in a determinist view in which people who are different are viewed as somehow less "human" or less capable (Trueba, 1988a, 1988b, 1991; Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993). Cultural ecology encountered problems of castification when a version of the same construct used to explain the differential status of minority groups (i.e., castification) was used to explain the behavior or lack of achievement of whole groups of people (i.e., through castelike personality). Similar problems of castification may plague disability services when the same categories of impairment and functional limitation (constructed mostly by people without disabilities) are used to determine eligibility for services, to prescribe interventions, and, on occasion, to explain failure.

The common problem in both disability services and cultural ecology is that some of the theoretical classification systems and societal institutions that have been invented to assist minority individuals can also serve to oppress those individuals. Hypothetical constructs, such as castification and the functional limitations of disability, can help us to understand the processes of social reaction to persons who are different. However, when such hypothetical constructs produce classification systems that are then used to impose limiting explanations of the behavior of "classified" individuals, the process becomes circular. The constructs and those who use them then become agents of castification.

The detrimental effect of such castification has been documented in anthropology, where the limiting impact of culturally-determined degradation incidents has been studied among the Japanese and other ethnic groups (DeVos, 1973, 1982, 1992; DeVos & Wagatsuma, 1966; DeVos & Suarez-Orozco, 1990). In the disability literature, the oppressing impact of castification has been referred to as stigma (Goffman, 1963), which affects interpersonal interaction (Gove, 1976) and may mitigate against political activism (Scotch, 1988; Scott, 1969). Consider, for example, the following description of castification of people with disabilities by rehabilitation professionals.

A serious overall curtailment of options occurs when professionals adhere to a stereotyped role for ... [people with disabilities], which, like sex-appropriate roles, offers a single "appropriate" model of thinking and behaving for the ... person and precludes a whole range of "inappropriate" options, regardless of the individual's abilities, talents, and inclinations. (Salifos-Rothschild, 1976, p. 41)

In the account by Salifos-Rothschild (1976), we see a circularity of reasoning whereby the same construct (i.e., disability), which is used to explain the individuals' situation, is also used to explain the limits of acceptable behavior. This circularity and its resulting limiting effects on individuals parallels Trueba's (1993a) criticisms of the use of Ogbu's typology in cultural ecology. While considerations of type, age of onset, and severity of disability may contribute to understanding the situations of persons with disabilities, they cannot be used as primary explanations of behavior.

The disempowering nature of these classification systems is often all too apparent to people with disabilities applying for rehabilitation services in an effort to enhance self-sufficiency and personal independence. Rather than being treated as adults with free or equal status, they may be confronted by able-bodied persons asserting a fight to determine what kinds of services they need (Stubbins, 1988). Such able|bodied individuals are often acting in accord with deterministic beliefs that, like those of cultural ecology, suggest that the behavior or needs of groups of individuals can be understood by their common attributes (e.g., disabilities, ethnic identification).

It is important to note that many professionals reject paternalism and actively work to foster empowerment. Nonetheless, professionals are in pivotal positions in which they can either facilitate empowerment or present additional barriers (Szymanski, 1985, 1994; Szymanski, Rubin, & Rubin, 1988). Further, professionals are in positions in which they are vulnerable to the implicitly deterministic castifying policies of the social institutions for whom they work. The implicit power of deterministic policies presents a particular professional dilemma. We suspect that the nature of use or abuse of power by professionals contributes to the extent to which disability services can actually castify rather than empower persons with disabilities.

Professional Power Considerations in Castification

The abuse of power by professionals can contribute to castification of minority groups by the same social institutions created to help those individuals. The determinant role of agencies and institutions (including third party payers) in handicapping persons with disabilities has been pointed out by sociologists and anthropologists discussing empowerment processes (see e.g., Mehan, Hertwick, & Meihls, 1986; Trueba, 1988a; Trueba, Spindler, & Spindler, 1989; Delgado-Gaitan & Trueba, 1991; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993) and those studying rehabilitation (see e.g., Albrecht, 1992; Illich, 1977; McKnight, 1977).

Power is at the root of the potential handicapping nature of interventions. However, according to Stubbins (1988), rehabilitation practitioners [are not] necessarily aware of how their choice of techniques is tied to power considerations - both by the influence exerted upon them by political and ideological interests and by the influence they exert on their clients in carrying out their assigned mandate.

Another dilemma for professionals in disability services is the implicitly deterministic foundations of professional practice, which may actually conflict with some models of disability. The conceptualization of professional knowledge is based on a logical positivist approach to inquiry (Skrtic, 1991), which "seeks facts or causes of social phenomena apart from the subjective states of individuals" (Taylor & Bogdan, 1984, p. 1). Clearly, the positivist nature of professional knowledge contributes to castification. Further, it is quite at odds with some descriptions of disability, particularly that of W. Roth (1985), who indicated that "a disability characterizes the experience of anyone who experiences the world mediated through a different body than others".

Professional autonomy, which is considered to be the ultimate criterion of professionalism, "implies that professionals know best what is good for their clients because they have access to the profession' s specialized knowledge and skills" (Skrtic, 1991, p. 90). Although some (e.g., Szymanski, 1985, 1994) have suggested that professionals must work in partnership with people with disabilities and their families, others (e.g., Rubenfeld, 1988) have questioned whether such partnerships were really possible due to the implicit power differentials in the relationship. The issue of professional autonomy seems to be at odds with phenomenological conceptions of disability (Skrtic, 1991) and may contribute to castification.

The advent of credentialling and opportunities for third party payment have appeared to coincide with increased emphasis on a medical or functional limitations approach to disability and related classification schema (D. Linkowski, personal communication, January 25, 1993). In this approach, professionals diagnose the source of the problem, which is clearly attached to the individual, and deliver interventions designed to "fix" the individual so that they can function more effectively in society. In order to receive services, individuals must accept their disabilities as sources of personal inferiority and relinquish majority status and self-determination (Salifos-Rothschild, 1976; Scott, 1969). "What is commonly considered realistic by professionals is that [social] construction which helps to enhance their own regards and their control over other people" (J. Roth, cited in Salifos-Rothschild, 1976, p. 40). Strong sanctions are applied to persons with disabilities who do not willingly relinquish their majority status. They are often additionally labeled as deviant, uncooperative, or ungrateful (Salifos-Rothschild, 1976; Scott, 1969). According to Scotch (1988)

The stigmatization of ... persons [with disabilities] is reinforced and even created by the attitudes of providers of rehabilitation services....By promoting the image of ... people [with disabilities] as dependent and in need of professional help, medical and rehabilitation professionals retain control over program beneficiaries at the cost of severely constraining the ... person ....

It seems that the movements toward professionalism, third party payment, and managed care may be reinforcing the castifying nature of the classification schemes that were originally invented to help us to understand the situations of people with disabilities. We are now using these same schemes to determine what services and how much services are needed by individuals. Somehow, the complex nature of individual action in a social and cultural environment is reduced to billable, diagnostic categories.

This cycle of castification in disability services is likely to continue due to the roles of professionals and the extent to which their increased avenues of remuneration reinforce castification of people with disabilities. The identification and remediation of disability provides a good living for disability professionals who might not be needed if disability were regarded as a simple, acceptable, manifestation of human diversity (Amado, 1988).

The disempowering processes discussed in the previous sections of this paper are very much in evidence today. In the next section, we illustrate castification through current policy for students with disabilities on a large university campus.

An Example of Castification through Campus Disability Policy

Special education, as it is usually delivered in public schools, has been considered by many critics to be seriously flawed. One of the major flaws has been the creation of a separate system, complete with multitudes of professionals who may effectively isolate students with disabilities from the mainstream educational community (Lipsky & Gartner, 1989; Skrtic, 1991; Will, 1986). Another flaw, was the disempowerment of people with disabilities and their families by professionals (Ferguson, Ferguson, & Jones, 1988; Nisbet et al., 1992; Szymanski, 1994).

Unfortunately, models similar to special education, which are based on positivist, medical and functional limitations approaches to disability, have developed on college campuses. In the post-secondary setting, such traditional service delivery models, which promote dependence on professionals, exist in sharp contrast to the student development model, which is directed toward acquisition of student independence (Brown, Clopton, & Tusler, 1991).

The limitations of the special education model on college campuses are evident in the extent to which students are included in mainstream processes. Problems certainly exist when the very services and structures that have been put into place to facilitate the education of students with disabilities often serve to isolate them from other students and from normal university processes (K. Al-Ashkar, personal communication, November, 1992). Consider, for example, a recent memo (which has since been changed) from a university office serving students with disabilities that advised students, who used alternative testing services, to:

A. Obtain a letter from us describing the accommodations that you are approved for and the role of the faculty in meeting your needs (available from the counselor who developed your service plan).

B. Meet with your professors as soon as possible. Provide them with the letter describing your approved accommodations. Explain to them the effects of your disability on taking examinations and how the accommodations you are approved for attempt to equalize your ability to take examinations. (McBurney Disability Resource Center, 1993)

The proposed procedure demonstrates the castifying effect of a disability service on at least two dimensions. First, it implies that the counselor, rather than the student and the professor, knows what is best for the student in a particular class. Second, the procedure bypasses the most productive method of accomplishing accommodation, that is, for the student to communicate directly with the professor before the class starts. In so doing, the policy appears to imply that because students have a disability, they are to be isolated from normal social interactions and required to present a letter (scarlet?) from a professional when communicating with faculty members about that very subjective experience of disability.

The point of the example presented in this section was to demonstrate that the practice of castification is alive and well. Fortunately, in this example, reaction by students with disabilities and interested faculty resulted in change. However, many other examples could have been offered, and the point remains. People with disabilities are often, unintentionally, relegated to inferior statuses by human service and education professionals. Not only does this castification profoundly affect the individual's self determination, but it also affects their interpersonal relations. For example, although the proposed accommodation letters could have been helpful to students who are not articulate or to hesitant faculty members, such letters also could have had the appearances of bringing an "excuse from home". Excuses from home are not commonly accepted practices with many university level professors who view students as responsible adults.

Obviously, disability services present complex challenges. The same constructs that we use to better understand the situations of people with disabilities can be inadvertently used to disempower them. The potential for misuse is subtle as was illustrated by the campus policy. On one hand, the campus policy facilitated access of students with disabilities. At the same time, however, the policy had a potentially castifying effect in that it could be interpreted to infer inferiority and the need for professional assistance from classification as having a disability.


In summary, many professionals consider empowerment of people with disabilities as a goal of education and rehabilitation. However, some of the processes of rehabilitation and special education have inherent castifying elements. They reflect some of the deterministic elements that are also problematic in cultural ecology. Examination of the role of professionals and service delivery programs in castification provides us with a potentially disturbing picture.

The answer, however, is not simple. All professionals and all disability services do not necessarily contribute to castification of persons with disabilities. However, the potential for negative consequences of disability policies and practices is very real. These potential consequences relate to the fact that disability is a multi-faceted phenomena that is constructed differently by various stakeholders. In addition, while the somewhat hypothetical constructs of disability and functional limitations can help us to understand the situations of people with disabilities, these same constructs cannot be used to explain behavior or to determine type and amount of needed services. Such practices are inherently deterministic and reflect lack of consideration of the complex social and cultural nature of human behavior.

The solution would seem to involve two fundamental alterations in the ways disabilities and disability services are understood. First, we must recognize the limitations of classification schemes, which reflect implicit determinism (Trueba, 1993a). Second, we must embrace Wertsch's (1991) dynamic concepts of socially mediated action, and realize that people with disabilities, the professionals who serve them, the interventions provided by those professionals, and the social and cultural contexts of the interventions are all interconnected and cannot be analyzed separately. In other words, we cannot understand the forest of the social impact of disability if we only focus on individual trees.

We propose that disciplines studying disability and disability policy examine some of the multi-level, multi-disciplinary approaches that are emerging in the study of minority empowerment (see e.g., DeVos (DeVos, 1973, 1982, 1992; DeVos & Wagatsuma, 1966; DeVos & Suarez-Orozco, 1990; and especially, DeVos, 1990, pp. 208-214), Trueba, 1991; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993; Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993). It would seem that our understanding of the impact of disability would be significantly enriched by multi-disciplinary investigations that address various levels of specific disability services or policies (e.g., individual, interpersonal, institutional/organizational, societal) from the framework of different stakeholders (e.g., people with disabilities, families, communities, different professional groups, front line service providers, employers). Such investigations will not yield simple or easy solutions to issues in disability policy and practice. They will, however, provide us with the contextual information with which to better understand people with disabilities and the impact of disability policies and services.


The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution to our thinking of the excellent students at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, who participated in a class on Race, Ethnicity, and Disability during the Spring semester of 1993.


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Edna Mora Szymanski, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin - Madison, School of Education, Madison, WI 53706
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Author:Trueba, Henry T.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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