My comments on disability civil rights highlighted in national NASW News


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I am honored to have been interviewed for an article on disability social work for the national NASW News.  Please see the entire article at this link.  Here is an outtake from the article:


“There is a reason we are in the midst of a disability civil rights movement,” said Elspeth M. Slayter, associate professor at Salem State University in Salem, Mass.

“People with disabilities involved in either the child welfare system or in substance use disorder treatment suffer from a general lack of respect,” she said. “I have often seen people with disabilities being treated as less than, or not smart enough. I believe we need to foster self-determination and community inclusion for all people with disabilities. I also believe that we just need to see people with disabilities as regular people, just with disabilities.”

Slayter, who is also certified in social work field instruction, knows firsthand how disability can impact a family.

“My sister has an intellectual disability,” she said. “Things were hard for our family while I was growing up.”

Slayter said social workers were “a big part of our life and helped our family tremendously in coping with the challenges involved in caring for and supporting my sister.”

Slayter looked up to these social workers and said she “knew from a young age that I wanted to be in a helping profession.”

After college she was facilitator of a women’s collective involving community organizing and peer counseling.

“It was an easy next step to apply to an MSW program,” Slayter said. “I got into forensic social work by accident, actually. My second year MSW placement was switched with another student by mistake.”

She partnered with law students to co-represent parents charged with abuse and/or neglect in the child welfare system. She worked with the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., partnering with attorneys who represented children on child welfare cases — many of whom had disabilities.

“Some of my clients also had parents with disabilities, and I began to notice disparities in how people with disabilities fared in the child welfare system,” Slayter said.

She moved to a Bronx public defender’s office where ”one case involved a person with an intellectual disability who had trouble accessing addiction treatment, and I began to specialize in support for that population,” Slayter said.

She received a scholarship from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

“Once I started teaching as an adjunct, I knew I had found the profession that really fit me the best: teaching combined with research in service to the community,” Slayter said.

Social workers generally have two challenges when working with those who have developmental or intellectual disabilities: they need to “gain some disability competence and learn to see the person beyond the disability,” she said.

“Access — beyond just physical access — is a major issue,” Slayter said. “So often there are visual barriers, hearing barriers, cognitive barriers, website barriers and, most importantly, attitudinal barriers often related to stigma.”

She advises her students to do three things: become reflexive practitioners, look at themselves regularly on “how their world view is impacting their work;” be critical consumers of research and evaluation evidence to better inform practice; and recognize that policy is relevant to their practice “because they are what Michael Lipsky refers to as ‘street level bureaucrats,’ the true people who implement policy.”