• View the Voices of Diversity: Ability and Disability video of Social Work faculty sharing their perspectives and experiences.
  • Identify an idea, fact, or statement in the video that inspires you to learn more. Conduct research online or in the Walden Library and identify one professional or scholarly resource that furthers your understanding. 


  • Analyze what you learned from the Voices of Diversity video regarding perspectives and experiences related to ability and disability.
  • Then, summarize your findings from at least one professional or scholarly resource focusing on themes of ability and disability.
  • How do your findings apply to social work practice with clients with varying abilities?

Voices of Diversity: Ability & Disability

© 2021 Walden University, LLC 1

Voices of Diversity: Ability & Disability Program Transcript KATHY PURNELL: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Voices of Diversity, and the topic for

discussion today is Ability and Disability. And we have two amazing people who are

going to join us for this conversation, and I’m just going to turn this over and let them

briefly tell us who they are, we’ll start with Tami.

TAMI FRYE: Hi, I’m Dr. Tammy Frye. I’m a core faculty member with the School of

Social Work, and I’ve been with Walden for seven years now.

GINA BOWLIN: My name is Dr. Gina Bowlin. I’m a licensed clinical social worker and I

work full time in a health care setting, and I’m a contributing faculty member for Walden.

KATHY PURNELL: My first question that I’m going to pose to Tami first is– the

discomfort around ability and disability can often be difficult for some to discuss or even

understand. Why is this, and why is this not as difficult for others?

TAMI FRYE: I think from the time we’re very young, we’re taught when we see someone

with a disability, that we look the other direction. We don’t look too long at someone

that’s different because we could be thought of as staring at someone, and we don’t do

that, we look away. We don’t want them to be made uncomfortable, so we don’t look at

them. And therefore, we almost don’t see them, and that carries over, whether it’s into

the field of social work or any other area. And it’s too easy then to make them invisible,

and we can just make them invisible and not give them attention. Then when they need

help in a grocery store, or when they need help opening a door, or when they just need

to be seen–

I myself found that this was the case when I acquired a disability. I found myself feeling

differently than I was when I was just an able-bodied person. I suddenly found myself

needing help reaching for the upper level items at a grocery store, or getting in a door

that didn’t open as easily. And people would just walk right on by, and it made a

difference because people were not comfortable helping or asking if I needed help. And

it goes back to being a young child, and we teach our children those kinds of things.

KATHY PURNELL: Gina, could you respond to the question, why is it some find this

easy or difficult to discuss? And was there a defining moment or personal story, as Tami

just explained for herself, that you would like to share very briefly with us?

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GINA BOWLIN: I think along the lines with what Tami said, we may be taught to

respond to disability in a certain way. But I think, innately as humans, we recognize

difference and automatically think of it as something challenging to understand if it’s

different than what we know and what we experience. That said, I think that some

people are more comfortable embracing what’s different, or they at least have a heart

that makes them want to bridge that gap. So I tend to think that those people are social

workers, nurses, others in the helping professions, that really enjoy helping bridge that


I do think, though, that one challenge we face is that many of the accommodations that

are created for disability are created by able-bodied people. And we learned that when I

had a 15-year-old daughter who was suddenly in a wheelchair and ended up in a

wheelchair for a period of about three years. And she learned, and we learned

alongside her, that just because something is accessible does not necessarily mean it’s

comfortable or easy.

For example, you can have an accessible bathroom, but the sink could still be out of

reach. Yes it might meet regs, but she may not be able to wash her hands in the sink.

And so that was a real eye-opener for us as parents when we realized that most of the

accommodations out there are designed by people not with those disabilities, but with


KATHY PURNELL: So my next question focuses a little bit on the history– there is

some historical and current context associated with the topic that we’re discussing– and

how does that resonate with you, as social work professionals, and why?

GINA BOWLIN: I would say that I am thankful that we now have better accommodations

for those who need them than we used to have. I believe that historically, those with

disability or in need of accommodations were viewed as people to be set aside in

society. And I believe that now we have more accommodations than ever. Even if

they’re not perfect yet, we’re moving in the right direction.

TAMI FRYE: Some would say it’s an evolutionary thing too. I mean, it goes way back to

when they were warehoused and taken away from the general population because for

whatever reason, and now at least things are done in school systems and among the

working people and that sort of thing to get those of us with different abilities out in the

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general population a little more than it used to be. Though like Gina said, there’s still a

long way to go.

KATHY PURNELL: What are some helpful strategies to encourage culturally responsive

practice with individuals who live with varying levels of abilities and/or disabilities?

TAMI FRYE: Don’t be afraid to talk about it. By all means, open the conversation with a

client that you may have with a disability or different ability. Talk about it, be– have an

open discussion about it. Find out what ways you can help; what way the client may

need your help; what kind of suggestions; how can I make you comfortable when you’re

here; how can I help you, whether it’s finding employment, or help you with school, or

whatever to find out what needs– what the needs are.

GINA BOWLIN: I would just add to what Tami said, that I think education is critical, both

for family members and for community members who work with folks that have

disabilities. Just helping them understand that they need to meet the client where they

are, and also helping family members understand the advocacy that they can engage in

to advocate for their loved one.

KATHY PURNELL: I have a son who’s now in college– he’s a junior in college– and I’ve

had to really work with him and the institution to think about ways to provide culturally

responsive teaching and learning. What are your thoughts about helping educators, not

just parents? What kind of resources do you think that schools of social work can

benefit from in strengthening cross-cultural understanding with this population?

GINA BOWLIN: That’s a bit of a challenging question. Just based on my own

experiences, and maybe it’s related to the culture in which I reside, we’ve really faced a

lot of challenges advocating for folks with regard to their disabilities. And it’s almost like

it’s been fighting a little bit of an uphill battle. So as far as better preparing helpers, I

definitely think we can do that– but I’m not sure– I’m not sure what the answer is.

KATHY PURNELL: As we know, developing cultural competence is somewhere you

don’t get overnight. It’s a journey.

GINA BOWLIN: Can I add a brief comment there? I feel like there’s a difference

between saying that you provide accommodations– and I think that our education

system– K-12, college level– is really great at saying that they provide the

accommodations. But sometimes in practice, families and clients end up real– like

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realizing conflict when they approach for those accommodations. So I think there needs

to be, along with that education, not just that we do it, but we do it well. And this is why

it’s important that we do it and that we engage with folks that need it.

KATHY PURNELL: As we think about today’s conversation and the topic, what would

you like students to think about or take away from this discussion? And what would you

want them to know, and why?

TAMI FRYE: That this is not an optional part of social work, that this is a part of social

work that’s every bit as critical for them to train in and be knowledgeable about, as

counseling skills, as theories, as anything else they’re going to learn about, and it’s

something that is important. It’s not something that they may or may not learn about,

that it’s something that’s really urgently important for them to know about before they


GINA BOWLIN: I would say first, not to fear what is different, and also, to not be afraid

to engage someone from a different culture with needs because what they’re looking for

is for their needs to be met. So not approaching that with fear, and then the next thing

would be being passionate about advocacy because sometimes that’s what our clients

need most.

KATHY PURNELL: Thank you. I think that’s a good place to end our segment on ability

and disability. Thank you, Gina. Thank you, Tami.

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