Author Archives: Phillip Keck

Disability and diversity in graduate school training

Why is it that this population is often left off the page? Where is the training in disability competencies?

According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of people with disabilities in the United States is 56.7 million, or 18.6% of the population. That is more than the percentage identifying as Hispanic or Latino (16.9%) and as Black or African-American (13.1%), and may be an under-count because reporting disability on a census survey is tricky.

Whereas disability rates are high, chronic disease rates are higher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about half of all US adults (or 117 million people) have one or more chronic health conditions like heart disease, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, or cancer — and 25% have two or more such conditions.

Suffice to say, a lot of people with chronic illness and disability (CID) live in the US and make up its largest minority group. So why is it that in our discussions of multiculturalism, this population is often left off the page? Where is the training in disability competencies?

Disability is no longer the realm of the medical doctors. Regardless of which applied arm of the field you call home, whether it be health, rehabilitation, clinical,  counseling, or school psychology, your clients will be people with disabilities. In fact, depending on where you are in the country, it is more likely you will work more with this population than any other minority group.

If you’re moved to learn more, start by asking yourself where you fall on the ability continuum, and what privileges this affords you. It was my realization of the privilege I held for my ability — more so than all other privileged identities I possess — that drove my passion for disability and rehabilitation competencies.  One way that I develop these competencies outside of my program is through volunteer service in the community and at conferences and trainings. (On a side note, I believe disability advocates still have work to do to move CID closer to the fore even in those arenas that celebrate diversity, such as the biennial National Multicultural Conference and Summit, an excellent event held next January in Atlanta).

Recently, discussions and publications addressing intersectionality issues have incorporated disability a bit more, which is a great thing. At the same time, it is possible that the unique cultural aspects and experiences of individuals with CID get overlooked. Now is the time to advance the multicultural discussion to include disability as a diverse and cultural experience.

Please check out this great training video with Drs. Linda Mona and Julie Williams. Parts two and three of the video can be found — along with a host of other resources — at the APA Disability Issues Office webpage.

Disability as a Diversity Variable: A Call to Action within Psychology

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic and any experiences you may have had in disability competency training.

Philip Keck

Editor’s note: Phillip Keck is a Counseling Psychology doctoral student at Ball State University and the APAGS liaison to the APA Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology.