DSQ > Winter 2008, Volume 28, No.1

The profession of social work has a long history of work with "clients" with disabilities, but unfortunately, this history often has not included strong advocacy for their rights and creating a place as colleagues within Schools of Social Work (Dunn, Hanes and MacDonald, 2003). From a critical disability perspective and a view of disability as being socially constructed, the profession and its educational institutions need to rethink their approach to students, faculty and staff with disabilities (May & Raske, 2005). Best practices in accessibility, accommodation and inclusivity will be explored within Canadian Schools of Social Work. Knowledge shared in this article was derived from a critical review of the literature, a survey of Schools of Social Work in Canada (Dunn, Hanes, Hardie, and MacDonald, 2006), and a National Best Practices conference (Dunn, Hanes, Hardie, Leslie, and MacDonald, J, 2004). Disability inclusion within Schools of Social Work is explored in five main areas: 1) recruitment and admissions; 2) accommodation; 3) curriculum; 4) field placements; and 5) retention, graduation and meaningful employment. While the specific focus is on social work education the principles and practices can be applied to other disciplines within the academy and beyond.

Keywords: disability inclusion, access and accommodations, equitable social work education


The perception and reality of disability issues has changed over the past twenty-five years. Since the International Year of the Disabled, slow and steady progress in human rights legislation has been made around the world (Enns & Neufeldt, 2003; Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 1999). This progress has resulted in disabilities being viewed and conceptualized from a social theory perspective as opposed to the medically based rehabilitation model (Rothman, 2003). For social workers, this has meant that persons with disabilities have begun moving from the role of client to that of colleague. In order for social work to keep pace with this area of social change, it is important for Schools of Social Work to demonstrate their leadership in this field (Dunn, Hanes, & MacDonald, 2003; Hick & Hanes, 2003). However, in order to provide this leadership, Schools must equip themselves with the values, knowledge and skills to accept persons with disabilities as students, staff and faculty in a truly equitable way. Schools need to explore issues of accessibility and accommodation, develop knowledge and understanding of these processes and establish best practices to achieve their effective implementation. They must resist the temptation of seeing accessibility and accommodations as processes that are the primary responsibility of the university administration and/or centralized disability services. This article explores best practices, which should fall directly under the purview of Schools of Social Work. Although this paper is written with a focus upon Canadian Schools of Social Work many of its insights and recommendations may be relevant to social work education in other countries and in other academic programs.

Human rights legislation has focused upon the removal of barriers in order to provide full participation in all aspects of society for persons with disabilities. This focus on barrier removal goes well beyond physical accessibility to include attitudinal, stereotypical and systemic elements (Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001). Human rights legislation enshrines the 'duty to accommodate' as a major mechanism for accomplishing barrier removal while establishing equity as its foundation (Humphrey, 2002). Combined with the rise of the independent living movement, founded on the principles of self-advocacy, empowerment, and involvement in all aspects of community (Phillips, 2003), change is not only legally required, but also the right thing to do. It has been acknowledged that to treat persons with disabilities equally results in their continued discrimination and oppression (Abella, 1984), "as it ignores their differences and their need for accommodation" (Leslie, Leslie & Murphy, 2003, p. 159). The principle of equity is built upon the premise of extra merit or resources being granted persons traditionally marginalized within society in an effort to off-set socially constructed barriers (Canadian Department of Justice, 2000).

People with disabilities, from their location of marginality, have their individual 'deficits' problematized while social constraints and barriers are ignored (Oliver, 1990, 1996; Thomas, 1999; Wendell, 1996). Post-secondary education has not escaped this phenomenon (Hill, 1996; O'Connor and Hammond, 1998). A critical disabilities perspective will be the theoretical base of this paper, which involves the application of a critical consciousness (Carniol, 2000; Woodill & Willi, 1992) in uncovering the barriers, assumptions and social political aspects that keep people with disabilities marginalized. Titchkosky (2001) claims "disabilities are covered over and made invisible, by the structures and assumptions of normalcy" (p.3). Social work educators have a responsibility to move beyond this unmasking process to identify best practices in supporting students, faculty and staff with disabilities. In the reconceptualization of disability as a social construct, people with disabilities are viewed as "different from, not lesser than" (Gilson & DePoy, 2002; Hughes, 1999).

Knowledge Gathering Process

Social change requires a reflective critical gaze into the social problem (Carniol, 2000; Mullaly, 2002). The reflective critical gaze employed by the Persons with Disability Caucus of the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (CASSW), on disability inclusion within Schools of Social Work in post-secondary education, was based upon a knowledge gathering process. In 2003, the Caucus conducted a survey of Schools of Social Work in Canada exploring practices with students, staff and faculty with disabilities. A ten (10) page survey consisting of closed and opened-ended questions was sent to the Deans and Directors of the thirty-five (35) Schools of Social Work in Canada. This survey gathered information about the accomplishments of Schools in disability inclusion and areas needing further attention. Extensive email and phone calls ensured that twenty-five (25) out of thirty-five (35) Canadian Schools of Social Work returned the completed survey for a return rate of 71%. Schools from across the country participated including large, medium and small ones and English, French and Bilingual Schools. The research method, statistical analysis and recommendations were presented at national conferences and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Social Work in Disability and Rehabilitation (Dunn, Hanes, Hardie and MacDonald, 2006). In May 2004, a national conference was organized to discuss the results of this research with students, staff, faculty members and consumer group representatives from across Canada. The forum was a knowledge gathering and dissemination process, where survey results acted as catalysts for discussions on disability inclusion. The presentations and discussions were transcribed and video-taped thus facilitating the retrieval of information from this source.

This current paper is an accumulation of best practices in disability inclusion derived from: (1) responses from a survey pertaining to Canadian Schools' of Social Work; (2) the one-day forum held in Winnipeg in 2004 consisting of a panel of experts in disability studies/services from the community and the academy, including both students and faculty with disabilities; and (3) a review of the literature over the past ten years primarily from the fields of social work, psychology, education and disability studies.

Within this article best practices will be explored in the areas of recruitment and admissions of students with disabilities, accommodations, curriculum, retention, graduation and employment, as well as issues related to faculty and staff with disabilities. Examining best practices in these areas is supported by human rights (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2001) and critical disability literature (Dunn, Hanes, Hardie, & MacDonald, 2006; Leslie, Leslie, & Murphy, 2003; Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 1996) along with social work ethics and values (Canadian Association of Social Workers, 2005).

Recruitment and Admissions of Students with Disabilities

"Universities have been challenged to respond to the diverse needs of students" (Cox and Walsh, 1998, p. 1). The time to address representation of students with disabilities in social work is overdue. Schools are obligated by their professional ethics to social justice to immediately rectify this inequity by actively recruiting and admitting students with disabilities (Canadian Association of Social Workers, 2005; CASSW, 2000).


Schools of Social Work must ensure networking with disability communities (MacDonald, Bernard, Campbell, Fay, MacDonald, & Richard, 2003) in order to recruit more students with disabilities. Establishing relationships in the community will help inform the School of disability issues and provide an avenue for recruitment. Schools need to extend invitations to dialogue with various disability communities, demonstrating a willingness to learn from their experiences and expertise (Etowa, Foster, Vukic, Wittstock, Youden, Edgecombe, & Crawley, 2005). The Schools should demonstrate a genuine commitment to disability issues or the sincerity of their outreach will be questioned (Laing, 2005). An important principle is to ensure reciprocal practices, where the communities are receiving benefits from the relationship not solely giving of their time and resources to the School (Etowa et al., 2005; MacDonald et al., 2003).

Schools must ensure information pertaining to the programs and social work profession are distributed to disability communities, high school teachers, guidance counselors and employment offices (Gitlow, 2000), in accessible formats, including large print, graphics tagged with text descriptions, voice text and so forth. Program promotional material should specifically identify services for students with disabilities and have representative student pictures. Specific information pertaining to accommodations, scholarships/bursaries, university services and accessibility, faculty advising and disability student groups should be colligated into an accessible brochure. Personal stories of students with disabilities could be an additional feature of the brochure (Gitlow, 2000), for these personal accounts breakdown isolation and promote inclusivity (Gilson & DePoy, 2004).

Clear transparent policies pertaining to accommodations, resources, governance structures and so forth need to be developed demonstrating the School's commitment to students with disabilities (Alberta Human Rights & Citizenship Commission, 2004). Consistency is important; for example, recruiting students with disabilities will be ineffective if the resources and supports for accommodations are not adequate or if the university is physically inaccessible. A policy review should be conducted prior to enacting aggressive recruitment initiatives (Alberta Human Rights & Citizenship Commission, 2004).

Faculty, staff and students with disabilities must be clearly represented within the School. Students with disabilities want to know that there are faculty and staff working within the School from the disability communities. Students do not want to be the School's token representatives. Further, faculty with disabilities could serve as mentors to potential students with disabilities, helping to answer pre-admission questions and breaking-down the isolation often experienced when entering a new institution (Gitlow, 2000).

Scholarships and bursaries must be available for students with disabilities within Schools of Social Work, as well as, across universities (Laing, 2005). Given the high rates of poverty experienced by individuals with disabilities (Hanes, 2002) and the added costs of adaptive equipment and medical needs, it is essential to establish a means of financial assistance to enhance recruitment efforts. It is also important that scholarships emphasize a needs-based approach to selection. Students with disabilities have been historically marginalized within educational institutions, and, for this reason a strictly academically assessed process would not be fair (Dunn et al., 2006; Evans Getzel, & Wehmann, 2005).


Admissions is the responsibility of Schools of Social Work. Schools must move beyond a 'do not discriminate' policy for admissions; for 'do not discriminate' against students based upon their age, gender, ethnicity or ability does not change the status of the student body or the related profession. Maintaining the status quo does not encompass the right to accommodations (Leslie, Leslie & Murphy, 2003).

Schools must adopt a principle of educational equity, specifically including student with disabilities as one of the historically marginalized groups. The principle of equity "requires special measures and the accommodations of differences" (Department of Justice, 1995, p. 1). Educational equity is the assigning of extra merit to students from traditionally disadvantaged groups in an effort to make the process of admissions more equitable. This task can be achieved in a number of ways, for example, assigning extra points to the admission score; direct admission given the students meet the minimum standards; or a quota system whereby a designated number of students receive offers of admission as long as the minimum requirements are met. If the School is asking students with disabilities to declare their status, clear transparent guidelines on confidentiality must be assured (Sapey, Turner, & Orton, 2004).

Students with disabilities should be represented on the School's admission committee, take an active part in reading the files and make decisions pertaining to process and offers of admission. Further, students selected for this process should have a critical disabilities perspective in that they understand traditional acts of exclusion and are committed to overcoming systemic barriers. This approach emphasizes their expertise and increases their visibility within the School's governance processes.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

'The duty to accommodate' is the cornerstone of human rights legislation for persons with disabilities and consequently, educational accommodation for students with disabilities is the linchpin for achieving full accessibility in higher education (Humphrey, 2002). The rich history of the social work profession's involvement in advocacy for disadvantaged populations, engagement with critical discourse and commitment to empowerment, are solid precursors for leadership in this area (Leslie, Leslie, & Murphy, 2003).

Most universities and colleges in Canada have some form of disability services to accommodate students with disabilities in their educational pursuits. The services provided through these centres range from confirming the need for extra time on exams, providing funding for disability supports, and facilitating training on and utilization of sophisticated adaptive computer software (Pardo & Tomlinson, 1999). Social work faculty and staff need to establish a positive working relationship with their university disability centre (Gilson & DePoy, 2002). Best practices in this area involves not only entering into a respectful relationship around individual student needs, but also in taking an active interest in promoting and advocating understanding of the accommodation process throughout the university. Undertaking joint teaching and learning seminars with disability centres is an example of how some Schools have worked cooperatively with centralized services. Another example is the establishment of social work student field placements within the disability centres.

Currently, one of the best practices for accommodating students with disabilities is to ensure that Schools of Social Work utilize Universal Instructional Design (UID) (Pfeiffer, 2001; Palmer, 2003). Schools of Social Work should actively encourage and train all faculty members in Universal Instructional Design (UID). The UID stresses the use of a range of teaching modalities to accommodate a diversity of learning styles among students, including those with disabilities (Nichols & Bryson, 2004; Shaw, Scott, & McGuire, 2001). Best practices in classroom teaching using this approach include: creating equitable learning opportunities such as accessible web-based course ware; making use of available supports such as equipment/technology and academic support services including captioned videos, appropriately spaced overheads and large font PowerPoint slides, and email lists or chat rooms; presenting instructional materials such as text books, reading materials and other instructional supports in digital format or on-line; ensuring multiplicity in design, delivery and evaluation in order to accommodate the broadest possible range of student learning styles; finally, being flexible and prepared to make accommodations and adjustments to support student success (Alberta Human Rights & Citizenship Commission, 2004; Pardo & Tomlinson, 1999; The Ohio State University Partnership Grant, 2006).

The UID approach promotes educational accommodation in many classroom situations, however often a highly individualized approach is warranted (Johnson, 2000; Rocha, 2000). In order to achieve both creative and effective accommodation in these instances four best practice principles should be emphasized: ensure sensitivity in all interactions with students with disabilities; have a clear understanding of the accommodation process; create a safe and welcoming environment; and implement adequate and appropriate accommodation strategies.

Best practices involve providing support for faculty members to reach out to students with disabilities in order to create effective and creative accommodations. Such support can take the form of invitations to discuss learning needs that can be placed in course outlines, reminders of the need for instructors to have class materials available in alternate formats and development of School policies supporting the use of appropriate accommodation procedures.


Curriculum is the sole responsibility of Schools of Social Work. There needs to be changes to social work education, research and training to ensure more inclusive curriculum. "Exposure to disability inquiry and culture broadens a School's capacity for inclusion. In effect, all participants (students, faculty, and staff) have opportunities for more enhanced learning experiences — about the world, people with disabilities, and themselves" (Anderson, 2006, p. 375 — 376). Curriculum development and research in the area of people with disabilities has lagged behind that of other oppressed populations such as women, racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and two-spirited peoples. Dunn, Hanes, Hardie and MacDonald (2006) found in their research about the progress of Schools of Social Work in Canada that there have been some strides toward greater inclusion of people with disabilities, however radical change has not been forthcoming and much remains to be done. Further, issues identified a decade prior have not been significantly changed. In the area of curriculum development, two primary areas of education can be explored: core curriculum for all students and specialization in disability studies.

Core Curriculum

The core curriculum of Schools of Social Work must address critical disability studies. Students who wish to work with people with disabilities should know basic empowering approaches for intervention.

All courses offered at both the BSW and MSW levels should have a critical disability focus. Course content usually includes exposure to racism, sexism, classism and heterosexism (Campbell, 2003). The same discourse could be applied to people with disabilities and while the students might not develop an expertise in disability studies they would at least have exposure to the basic concepts of ableism. Ableism could be integrated with other forms of oppression that are discussed more extensively in Schools of Social Work on a daily basis.

Social work students can gain an understanding of working with people with disabilities by having material pertaining to this population included in courses which highlight individual, family, group, community work and social policy. Case studies, agency visits and community guests could focus on people with disabilities. The voice of individuals with disabilities should be included in all material (Gilson & DePoy, 2002). Disability is one aspect of life that crosses all populations (Oliver, 1990, 1996; Thomas, 1999; Wendell, 1996). Faculty teaching these courses need to introduce material about the oppressions of people with disabilities and make linkages to other oppressed populations (Dunn et al., 2006).

Specialized Curriculum

Some Schools of Social Work provide an opportunity to 'specialize' in particular areas of interest. As it now exists there are few Schools of Social Work in Canada that offer courses on social work and people with disabilities, let alone have a specialty in 'disability' (Dunn et al., 2006). Developing areas of specialization that included people with disabilities would not be difficult if the will and resources are available. Specialization may include: an elective course, direct studies and/or a research component, and a disability specialization in a number of courses.

Elective courses could include a range of courses wherein the student would be encouraged to develop papers, projects and/or presentations geared to social work and people with disabilities. A specialized elective could provide a broad focus covering a number of topics such as critical disability theory, histories, ethics, stigma, social programs, violence, women with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minority populations with disabilities.

A specialization in critical disability studies can be developed in conjunction with other departments. The specialty focus would offer a number of courses focusing upon multi-disciplinary perspectives of critical disability studies.

Field Placements

The field placement is a core component of social work education and training, hence, it is essential that programs offer a specialty in working with people with disabilities, including consumer organizations. The development of field placements must consider students who are able-bodied and those with disabilities.

Schools should promote opportunities to work with people with disabilities by pursuing field placement in organizations that offer services to this population. Some cross-disability agencies allow students the opportunity to work with a variety of people who confront varying types of barriers. Students interested in learning more about a specific population should be encouraged to pursue field placements within disability specific agencies and organizations.

The needs of students with disabilities must be met within field placements (Pardo & Tomlinson, 1999). This requires that Schools of Social Work pursue placements that are accessible and have supervisors and staff who are willing to accommodate their needs. In meeting the education needs of students with disabilities the School has a responsibility to advocate and arrange or provide funding to accommodate students in their placements. Planning, assessing, and negotiating different accommodation issues will have to be addressed as part of the process of the field placement. Issues such as flexible hours, rest periods, provision of aids as required or barrier removal, as well as, attendant services will have to be worked out as part of the field placement planning process. These arrangements must be viewed as part of the student's right to an education (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2001).

Often students with disabilities are directed toward field placements in agencies which provide services primarily to people with disabilities because of the agency's familiarity and ease with accommodations. The path of least resistance may not necessarily be the best placement for the student. Through lived experiences the student may have been a client of the agency and thus knows the agency which limits opportunities for new learnings. Students with disabilities should not be streamlined toward disability specific organizations as this might reinforce stigma and potentially ghettoize them, while blocking potential job opportunities with other agencies.

In addition, Schools of Social Work can create an inventory of accessible field placements; develop evaluation forms that include opportunities to comment on the accessibility of the field placement; ensure training for field placement personnel that is related to disability issues and accommodation needs; have written field placement policies for students with disabilities with first voice input; and ensure that all students wishing to do field placements related to disability issues have the opportunity to do so.

Retention, Graduation and Meaningful Employment

As more people with disabilities enter university and social work programs one of the key issues is to ensure that they are able to graduate and obtain meaningful employment in social work (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2001; Leslie, Leslie & Murphy, 2003). Access to social work education for individuals with disabilities is only part of the solution, people must be able to get through the program, obtain a degree in social work and graduate with a meaningful job in the field.


One important goal is to ensure the retention of students with disabilities. Students often drop out because they are not accommodated in a timely respectful manner (Humphrey, 2002). Individuals should be able to access accommodations with minimal supports to ensure their progress, or the School could be considered to be "disabled" (Aguayo, 2004).

Part-time programs with supportive policies can be very beneficial in helping students with disabilities complete their degrees. They can provide a lot more flexibility in terms of the timing of courses, their sequence and demands. Many students find that such programs offer more choice and flexibility.

One way of promoting ongoing accommodation is to offer individual mentors and/or circles of support. Such support should be offered prior to the student's entry to the program and could last until they graduate and find a meaningful job. Such programs have been very successful in breaking down barriers to postsecondary education for Aboriginal students (Pitts, 2005). Circles of support consist of one or more mentors who are students, staff and/or faculty members with disabilities or other allies. However, students need to be in control and determine if they wish such supports, as well as when and who should be part of their support system. A training program for any mentors should be provided.

Ultimately, the School's environment needs to be inclusive to promote academic and social integration. For example, all students need to learn how to work with peers who have disabilities in group projects. At the same time students with disabilities need to be included into social activities which should be accessible for everyone. Students who feel socially isolated are more likely to drop out of academic programs (Etowa et al., 2005; MacDonald et al., 2003).


Students with disabilities are more likely to graduate if they have been effectively accommodated. Unless the environment is made accessible so that students can get to their classes easily, material is available in alternative formats and sign language interpreters are provided then many students will find completing the program extremely difficult. Also, many students may get discouraged if they feel that they will not be able to obtain social work jobs once they have completed their studies.

Schools can adopt a policy of allowing students with disabilities up to twice the time to complete a degree or a course. The focus of such a policy is not to dilute the requirements, but to accommodate the extra time and efforts required by students with disabilities to get around campus, use the library or get material reproduced in alternative formats, such as Braille.

Schools should evaluate if there are any disincentives in terms of graduating. For example, government policies that cut students off disability benefits or health care once they graduate from university. If it takes students a long time to obtain a meaningful social work job then they may face extreme hardships. Schools can advocate for changes in government policies and supports and ease the transition from graduation to work.

Meaningful Employment

One of the most challenging barriers for students with disabilities is finding meaningful jobs in social work. Some individuals can get jobs, but they are often ghettoized in disability specific agencies and/or have part-time research contracts. They are often not hired in mainstream agencies to undertake direct counselling or community work (Leslie, Leslie, & Murphy, 2003). One might expect that social work agencies would be more responsive; however, many agencies seem unwilling to accommodate differences (Raske, 2005). Directors of agencies may be concerned about the costs of environment adaptations. The long term contributions of employees with disabilities and the vast wealth of their human potential are often ignored.

Connections for future jobs often occur within students' field placements. Therefore, it is very important to carefully plan with students which placements make the most sense in terms of developing skills and employment opportunities. Students with disabilities must have the choice of being placed in mainstream agencies or disability specific ones.

Universities often spend considerable money on job fairs and bringing recruiters to campus. Plus, they often have job counsellors and coaches for resume writing and employment finding skills. Schools of Social Work need to recognize that they have a responsibility in terms of employment. Equity considerations must be applied, for without intervention the playing field is uneven. More comprehensive and concerted strategies need to be undertaken, in collaboration with students with disabilities, in terms of employment opportunities.

Field practicum directors, faculty, staff and students, in cooperation with community advocates must undertake extensive campaigns to change the attitudes of agencies and identify funding sources for accommodations. Schools in collaboration with local funders can conduct workshops with agencies to discuss the importance of hiring and accommodating staff with disabilities. In addition, agencies might be recognized by Schools for accommodating students in field placements and/or hiring graduates with disabilities.

Employment Equity and Supports for Faculty and Staff with Disabilities

Universities challenge the dominant discourses in society, pushing the boundaries of contemporary thinking (Neufeldt and Egers, 2003). Progressive and innovative disability policies aimed at promoting the voices and rights of their own employees with disabilities should model inclusive practices. To begin, Schools should have representative employment equity hiring, where the number of employees with disabilities, both faculty and staff, would equal the percentage of disabled people in the population (MacDonald et al., 2003). Dunn et al. (2006) survey of Schools of Social Work found that only 5% of faculty at the respondent Schools had a disability; while it is estimated that 14 - 16% of the Canadian population identify as having a disability (Hanes, 2002; Neufeldt and Enns, 2003). In the United States 19% of the population have a disability, yet only 3.6% of teachers in the academy identify as having a disability (Anderson, 2006). "With all the bodies in the academe, one wonders why more of them aren't people with disabilities" (Anderson, 2006, p. 368).

Schools should ensure an employment equity hiring philosophy is adopted: whereby, faculty and staff hiring practices move beyond 'we are an equal opportunity employer' to designated positions specifically identifying preference to hire a person with a disability. Caution is warranted against developing a token system whereby one person holds the burden of representing an entire community and field of scholarship (Vasquez, Lott, Garcia-Vazquez, Grant, Iwamasa, Molina, Ragsdale and Vestal-Dowdy, 2006). Schools need to resist the tendency of having one token representative, which is often a hiring practice in many universities (Flores and Rodriguez, 2006). Further, they need to be conscious of not ghettoizing this person or reinforcing stereotypes often associated with equity policies. For example, achievement and success of white and abled-bodied people is accredited to their own efforts, whereas achievement and success of colored or disabled people is accredited to equity policies (Vasquez et al., 2006). Allies within the academy need to understand, support and work with their colleague(s) in forwarding an agenda of disability rights and studies through a critical perspective. The aim is "to develop sensitized collegial relationships" that recognize the historical exclusion of people with disabilities (MacDonald et al., 2003, p. 478). "A body bias exists in the academy [as] white, thin, straight, able-bodied men remain the preferred corporeal representation of a college professor" (Fisanick, 2006, p. 336). This has meant "many professors who do not occupy the 'normal body' position feel marginalized by its tyranny in academic culture" (Fisanick, 2006, p. 331).

A recent survey found that only slightly over 1% of doctoral students in social work identified as having a disability (Dunn et al., 2006). How will representation in the academy of faculty with disabilities occur if students with disabilities are not admitted at the graduate levels? Recruitment and accommodations at the doctoral level needs to be implemented; without it, the progression of representation crumbles. Likewise, the potential for scholarship in the area of disability studies is threatened.

Clear policies must be established outlining the commitment to accommodate employees with disabilities. Accommodations vary as much as the disabilities themselves. What works for one person may not be appropriate for another. Jung (2003) recognizes the need for individualized accommodations, but cautions that the shift to personal needs might distract from the larger structural changes needed for accessibility. This being said, an open needs-based dialogue between the Director and the faculty member with a disability or the administrative supervisor and the staff member with a disability is vital. Employees with disabilities might be hesitant to express their needs, especially if they have had negative experiences with former employers. Employers' attitudes towards accommodations make a tremendous difference in the employee's willingness to be upfront; conveying an understanding of accommodation as "creating an atmosphere and reality of equal opportunity" (Leslie, Leslie and Murphy, 2003, p. 159). An example of accommodation for new faculty with disabilities, who have not yet completed their PhD, is the provision of additional resources (Hanes, 2002; Leyser, Vogel, Wyland and Brulle, 1998). Supports could consist of reduced teaching loads while studying, valuing doctoral research as fulfillment of research workload, reduced or eliminated committee responsibilities during critical times in doctoral studies and negotiating paid educational leave during their dissertation.

Schools must ensure movement towards an accessible environment where physical barriers for faculty and staff are identified and a timely plan is drafted for their removal, specifically highlighting yearly goals. Many Schools are in older buildings that are completely inaccessible, creating enormous barriers for faculty and staff with mobility disabilities. Schools must ensure that the environment is accessible and/or advocate for the university to address such barriers.

Attitudinal barriers must be challenged by the Schools. They should not tolerate prejudices or stereotypes towards people with disabilities in general and employment equity practices in particular. Salzberg, Peterson, Debrand, Blair, Carsey and Johnson (2002) call for mandatory training sessions for faculty and staff on disability accommodation and accessibility.

Policies on health related issues need to be respectful of persons with disabilities' locations. Such policies, and hence practices, should not discriminate against staff and faculty with disabilities and ideally should be supportive; for example, access to short term or long term disability benefits should be easily accessible. Double standards should not exist, whereby faculty and staff with disabilities are subject to more scrutiny then other employees. Furthermore, policy clauses that disqualify pre-existing conditions from benefits should be challenged. Extensions to limited health benefits, such as physiotherapy, could be implemented for employees with disabilities.

Faculty and staff with disabilities represent a mirrored image to students with disabilities; whereby the reflection demonstrates acceptance, provides knowledge and mentoring resources and most importantly, normalizes the students' location within the School (Vasquez et al., 2006). Yet, it is not enough for Schools to invite people with disabilities in, they must be willing to examine institutional barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to stay, be it with doctoral students, staff or faculty appointments (MacDonald, et al., 2003).


This article is based upon a review of the literature, research about the policies and practices of disability inclusion within Schools of Social Work in Canada and a conference on best practices for promoting disability inclusion. A number of key principles or themes emerged from this review. One of the main themes of the article is an emphasis upon critical disability theory which is a rights based model that recognizes the social construction of disability (Oliver, 1996, 1990). This model emphasizes that disability is created by the environment, patronizing attitudes and the unprotected rights of consumers (Dunn, 2003; Enns & Neufeldt, 2003). The solutions include consumer control, options and flexibility of programs (Dunn et al., 2004, 2006; Wills and Members of the Persons with Disability Caucus, 1993). Inclusion, active citizenship, empowerment, accommodation of differences and fully accessible environments are the grounding principles of a rights based model, extending the full range from recruitment of students to obtaining meaningful social work employment. Further, Schools of Social Work need to increase their representation of students, staff and faculty with disabilities, which would include accommodation of their needs (Dunn, Hanes, & MacDonald, 2003). An environment of inclusion recognizes the individualized nature of accommodations, while building flexibility into the programs facilitates respect of these differences.

Collaboration is a key, for to be successful there must be a united effort by students, staff and faculty members. The Schools need to collaborate with the centres for students with disabilities on campus. They can also combine their efforts with other departments to create specializations in critical disability studies. Individuals with disabilities must remain central in these processes: They should have input and control of any initiatives. Also, collaboration must extend to disability organizations in the community, inviting them to become active players in the promotion of disability inclusion within the academy.

Schools must advocate for social change for students, staff and faculty members within their programs, the university and profession. Such advocacy is especially effective in collaboration with or spearheaded by consumers. For example, the Disability Caucus of the CASSW is trying to change the accreditation standards of this certifying body to develop more progressive standards regarding accommodations of students, staff and faculty with disabilities within Schools of Social Work in Canada.

Another key principle which is mentioned in many of the best practices is the concept of equity. Since historic conditions are not equal for everyone we must go beyond equal opportunity to implement concepts of equity. For example, equity is important in terms of admissions of students and hiring of staff and faculty members with disabilities. Equity is vital in creating an even playing field for future employment. At the same time equity is at the heart of the principles of accommodation. Since many students with disabilities have to expend at least twice the effort to complete their assignments perhaps they should be given twice the amount of time to complete their work. In any case, equity is central to best practices in disability inclusion.

To create an inclusive environment it is useful to develop progressive comprehensive policies in writing which cover the areas outlined in this article. Most universities have published their accessibility policies, but very few of the Schools in Canada have developed any written policies and certainly not comprehensive ones (Dunn, Hanes & MacDonald, 2003). However, policies can be oppressive, so it is very important that students, staff and faculty members with disabilities have a major voice in their development. At the same time it is important to ensure that the resulting initiatives are monitored and evaluated with significant consumer input.

Carol Tator (1996) developed and outlined different categories of social work agencies which serve diverse racial, ethnic and cultural minorities. A similar approach might be utilized for Schools of Social Work in terms of disability inclusion. The following is a proposed typology:

  1. non inclusive environments — ones which have almost no students, staff or faculty with disabilities, have little or no accommodations, and oppose the concepts of equity;
  2. ambivalent environments — may admit a few students with disabilities, offer some accommodations, support a concept of equality, but do not create an inclusive climate or atmosphere of understanding;
  3. inclusive environments — have students, staff and faulty members with disabilities, support a concept of equity, actively include accommodations, but limit their endeavours to an unplanned and uncoordinated effort of change; and
  4. comprehensive inclusive environments — not only promote equity in terms of disability inclusion, but do so actively in all aspects of their programs and personnel as well as evaluating the outcomes.

This typology may be useful in planning and outlining where Schools are in their efforts for social change and their future directions.

In conclusion, students, staff and faculty members with disabilities continue to confront many barriers within Schools of Social Work in Canada (Dunn, Hanes & MacDonald, 2003). Fortunately, there is a growing knowledge about how to create more inclusive environments and ways to promote disability inclusion. We need to reconceptualize our thinking and actively promote social change initiatives. Then we can create truly inclusive environments in Schools of Social Work in which everyone is recognized, valued and empowered.


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