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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Disability theory and social work practice

Macdonald, Stephen J and Deacon, Lesley (2019) Disability theory and social work practice. In: The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Theory. Routledge, London. ISBN 9780415793438

Item Type: Book Section


This chapter presents a summary of disability theory with reference to social work practice. We consider five models of disability, of which we advocate that three are essential for social work practice to support disabled service users. We discuss two medical models and three versions of the social model with reference to their theoretical origins. The chapter will suggest that the biomedical models employ an essentialist perspective to disability and impairment (see Chapter 6); whereas the social models draw on historical materialism, critical realism and post-structuralism philosophies. We use examples from our research to illustrate how these theoretical lenses emerge and can be applied in different situational professional spaces.

We argue that social work practitioners should not be constrained by one theoretical perspective. Rather, an eclectic toolkit should be utilized to facilitate inclusive and anti-discriminatory practices (Deacon & Macdonald, 2017). A post-positivist perspective is employed to bring together the different models by using a mixed-method approach in our research which is presented in this chapter. Thus, we exemplify our theoretical, qualitative and quantitative research to progress a social scientific approach in disability studies to inform social work practice. As Williams (2003) suggests, a post-positivist position has now been embraced, i.e. that both a positivist and interpretivist position can be occupied. This pragmatic approach therefore acknowledges that some ‘realities’ can be counted and measured and some cannot (Patton, 2002). The chapter aims to give clear direction for social work practitioners to understand different models of disability to develop a critical practice to move away from the current medicalized healthcare approach that dominates contemporary social work.

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Depositing User: Klaire Purvis-Shepherd


Item ID: 10596
ISBN: 9780415793438
Official URL:

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Stephen J Macdonald: ORCID iD
ORCID for Lesley Deacon: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 28 Mar 2019 09:46
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2021 11:15


Author: Stephen J Macdonald ORCID iD
Author: Lesley Deacon ORCID iD

University Divisions

Faculty of Education and Society
Faculty of Education and Society > School of Social Sciences


Social Sciences > Health and Social Care
Social Sciences

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