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The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators: A Qualitative Data Analysis

  • University of Perugia. Italy

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Representations of disability shaping the opinions, attitudes, and behaviour of 90 participants (teachers, parents, and special needs educators) are investigated in order to better evaluate the spread of the biopsychosocial model proposed by the ICF. The quasi-experimental purpose was investigated through both qualitative analyses and by quantitative analyses. The results demonstrate a richness of perspectives on disability much broader than the medical, social, and biopsychosocial ones. The limited diffusion of the biopsychosocial model among parents shows the lack of an ‘open view’ towards personal empowerment, social growth, and improvement of the quality of life. This suggests a priority: The need to further involve parents in the educational actions, in order to promote an effective management of personal and environmental resources to better face the disability of their own children. In such a way it would be possible to develop and promote a new ‘culture of diversities’.
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The Open Education Journal, 2008, 1, 37-48 37
1874-9208/08 2008 Bentham Open
Open Access
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special
Needs Educators: A Qualitative Data Analysis
Stefano Federici
, Fabio Meloni, Alba Brogioni and Alessandra Lo Presti
Piazza Ermini, 1 - 06123 Perugia, Italy, Department of Human and Educational Sciences, University of Perugia, Italy
Abstract: Representations of disability shaping the opinions, attitudes, and behaviour of 90 participants (teachers, par-
ents, and special needs educators) are investigated in order to better evaluate the spread of the biopsychosocial model pro-
posed by the ICF. The quasi-experimental purpose was investigated through both qualitative analyses and by quantitative
analyses. The results demonstrate a richness of perspectives on disability much broader than the medical, social, and bi-
opsychosocial ones. The limited diffusion of the biopsychosocial model among parents shows the lack of an open view’
towards personal empowerment, social growth, and improvement of the quality of life. This suggests a priority: The need
to further involve parents in the educational actions, in order to promote an effective management of personal and envi-
ronmental resources to better face the disability of their own children. In such a way it would be possible to develop and
promote a new ‘culture of diversities’.
Keywords: Models of disability, parental attitudes, ICF, biopsychosocial model, Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis
Software, Atlas.ti, special needs educators.
On Disability Models
When Peggy Quinn, in her Understanding disability: A
lifespan approach [1], recalled the relevance of offering to
the parents of children with disabilities an early information
about their children’s development (making them understand
how their child will grow up physically, socially, and cogni-
tively and how to help and encourage them to obtain the
maximum progress), attention was once again focused on
how the communicative stimulus affects that very diachronic
communicative process – which always concerns our being
either parents or children, doctors or patients, normal or dis-
abled. This process (expressed in those real situations that
are not always considered possible by the same parents), in
which the meaning of the relationship with that child whose
diversity astounds us, is to be found. If this sense arises from
the evaluation of a disability which follows a typical devel-
opment model, such as Piaget’s or Eriksons’, it will be cer-
tainly focused on deficit and on aspects that will make the
disabled children not able to fit into the expected develop-
ment standards [2].
Therefore, the disability models are categorical represen-
tations in which the social relations are understood, built,
and given; not only the frames where everyone finds their
own identity, but also where it generates other identities in
that complex system of attribution that defines us:
‘Society establishes the means of categorizing
persons and the complement of attributes felt to
be ordinary and natural for members of each of
these categories’ [3].
*Address correspondence to this author at the Piazza Ermini, 1 - 06123
Perugia, Italy, Department of Human and Educational Sciences, University
of Perugia, Italy; E-mail:
Disability Models from a Psychological Cognitive-
Constructivist Perspective
From our psychological perspective, we believe that the
use of disability models is justified not so much by their
function of favouring the understanding of disability, but by
the nature itself of the functioning of the human mind. In the
mind, reality is the result of interpretative/reconstructive
information processing that turns a real entity into an object
observed and experienced by a subject [4]. The fact that this
construction of reality is not arbitrary is confirmed by the
survival of the human race which, in its constant evolution,
demonstrates a surprising ability of adaptation to the envi-
Therefore, following our perspective, disability models
should not only be considered as useful access tools to deal
theoretically and practically with a too complex reality, but
as the possibility itself to access that reality called disability.
That disability is should then brought back to etiopathologi-
cal causes, to social structures, to cultural discrimination, to
divine punishment, to chakra disharmony, pertains to the
diversity of the models that, we reassert, are not a simple
interpretation of a malfunctioning, but the means of experi-
encing it.
In this work we present the results of a qualitative inves-
tigation about the vision of disability of parents with dis-
abled and non disabled children, non-specialized and special-
ized teachers
, professional special needs educators, and so-
As non-specialized teacher we intend a teacher qualified for teaching
his/her own discipline (i.e., maths, history, literature, etc.) but not special-
ized to support students with special needs. On the other hand, a specialized
teacher is a teacher not only qualified to teach a discipline, but also special-
ized to support students with special needs. In fact, in accordance with Ital-
ian law no.104, February, 5
, 1992, students with special needs and disabili-
38 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
cial-health workers. Two reasons pushed us to develop this
investigation: first, to study more deeply the relationship
among disability, adaptation, socialization, and development
and second, to verify the spread of the biopsychosocial
model proposed by the International Classification of Func-
tioning, Disability, and Health (ICF)
In order to investigate which disability models inform the
social and educational relations of a disabled student we ob-
served the ‘communicative stimuli’ that affect development,
even beyond the parental relationship. Moreover, revealing
the perspective of parents, teachers, and educators on disabil-
ity could offer precious and rare information about the
spread of concepts of the new ICF classification and of the
biopsychosocial model among different categories of people
who, even if sharing the school environment, come from
different conditions and educations where disability is con-
Italy, since the 1970s, has been featured an excellent leg-
islative corpus on school integration, social inclusion, equal
opportunities, and accessibility to information technologies,
which have long since integrated some of the fundamental
ICF concepts, such as the inclusion of environmental factors
among the dimensions influencing the construct of disability.
Nevertheless, this fact most probably makes the new features
of ICF less evident, making its popular acknowledgement
paradoxically more difficult. Moreover, the medical and le-
gal evaluation system at the base of our social security sys-
tem, based on ‘invalidity scores’, even if very far from the
perspective of the biopsychosocial model, still constitutes a
huge obstacle for the innovation proposed by ICF. Introduc-
ing a vision of disability and invalidity not reducible to the
application of a list of physical disablements would call for
an enormous socio-structural change of the social security
system that would touch corporate interests and privileges,
so resistant to political changes.
International and Scientific-Literary Production on
Teachers’ and Parents’ Vision of Disability
From a research on the main databases of international
indexed scientific publications (Cambridge Scientific Ab-
stracts: social sciences area), no Italian studies were found
dealing with the view on disability featured by teachers, par-
ents, or special needs educators.
Also at an international level, literary material concern-
ing this matter is scarce; only four international journals give
space to this topic, for a total of six articles: two on Disabil-
ity and Society [9, 10], two on the Journal of Contemporary
Ethnography [11, 12], one on the Journal of Medical Hu-
manities [13] and one on the British Journal of Special Edu-
cation [14]. All these studies are mainly about parents’ per-
ties have the right – and in compulsory school curriculum, the duty – to be
integrated in the mainstream school system. As a consequence, each school
communicates to the local education office the number of students with
special needs who necessitates of a specialized teacher who may work in
classrooms which the special needs students are enrolled in, along with non-
specialized teachers.
For a review of the literature produced in the three years following the ICF
approval, see Bruyère, Van Looy, and Peterson [6]. For a close analysis of
the revision path that led from ICIDH in 1980 to current ICF, we suggest the
excellent work by Bickenbach, Chatterji, Badley, and Üstün [7]. Lastly, for
a critical work about ICF’s biopsychosocial model and about models of
health prevention, see Federici and Olivetti Belardinelli [8].
spectives, except the work by Adams, Swain and Clark that
is dedicated to the teachers’ point of view about the meaning
of ‘specialness’ (referred to English ‘special’ schools) in
theory and practice.
All authors adopted the medical and social models as
criteria to qualitatively evaluate and interpret their data.
Moreover, no one of them, no exceptions made, makes any
reference to the biopsychosocial model. Even when re-
searchers looked for alternative models to the medical and
social ones, – Jenks’ ‘middle’ model [11], Brett’s alliance
one [10], Kelly’s inter-subjective and inter-corporeal one
[12], the social position of the medical model revised by
Ong-Dean [13] – or when they called for the need of educa-
tion projects not favouring one model to the disadvantage of
the other, encouraging the integration of the values of both,
as Asprey and Nash did [14] along with Adams, Swain, and
Clark [9], no mention was made of the biopsychosocial
model or the ICF.
In the following paragraphs we will present and discuss
the data collected during an investigation on the vision of
disability featured by parents, teachers, social- health work-
ers, and special needs educators, from four Italian regions
(Lazio, Molise, Umbria, and Apulia), analysed with a quali-
tative coding and textual interpretation, as well as a quantita-
tive analysis, both assisted by the Atlas.ti software.
Aims of Descriptive Research and Quasi-Experimental
The general purpose of this study is to explore which
representations of disability orient the opinions, attitudes,
and behaviour of people who spend, for affective or profes-
sional reasons, large amounts of their time with a disabled
person on a daily basis. The fulfilment of this research pur-
pose is based on the assumption that it is possible to infer
inductively, from these representations, the disability models
that inform the affective, social, and educational relations of
a disabled student.
The quasi-experimental aim was investigated with quali-
tative analyses, text coding and interpretation, and quantita-
tive software-assisted data analyses. The latter were carried
out, with explorative purposes, with only two statistical hy-
1. In the quantitative analyses, the disability model at-
tributed to each role homogeneous group depends on
the highest number of expressions coded as consistent
with that specific model;
2. The disability model significantly prevailing in each
role-homogeneous group correlates with the partici-
pants’ modalities of expression of their personal ex-
Our research is a ‘quasi-experiment’ because the participants have not been
randomly assigned to conditions (social roles) but, instead, are assigned to
particular conditions on the basis of some mainly inherent characteristic (the
fact to be parents, teachers, social-health workers, or special needs educa-
tors) [15]. In any case, we also use ‘experiment/al’ (e.g., experimental stage)
in order to simplify the text exposition, but intending it as a quasi-
experiment/al one.
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 39
The enrolment of the participants - non-specialized and
specialized teachers, parents of disabled and non disabled
students, social-health workers, and special needs educators -
was carried out exclusively in schools and local educational
agencies, or in local associations and organizations dedicated
to the care, assistance, and education of disabled people. As
far as the specialized teachers is concerned, after obtained
the qualification teaching diploma a teacher must attend a
post-graduate semester which envisages training in a state
school with special needs students, who are integrated in
classrooms along with normal students. The social work and
special needs educator university courses also envisage a
training which the social worker- and educator-to-be serve
either in public or in private structures under the supervision
of a regular worker.
In each group of participants, sharing the school envi-
ronment but coming from different conditions, experiences,
and education about disability, we investigated the general
perspective on disability, in order to verify how widely
spread the concepts of ICF’s new classification are, as well
as the biopsychosocial model conceptually compatible with
this classification.
The participants in the groups were invited on the basis
of only one specific educational role, even where they had
more than one. Therefore, each participant knew that he/she
was participating in only one of the following groups, di-
vided by role: parents of disabled children, parents of non
disabled children, non-specialized teachers, specialized
teachers, professional special needs educators, and social-
health workers.
90 participants (69 F; 21 M; mean age: 47 yrs) were in-
volved in the study (Table 1), divided in groups as follows: 30
(23 F, 7 M) parents of disabled students, 7 (6 F, 1 M) parents
of non disabled students, 20 (18 F, 2 M) non-specialized
teachers, 14 (11 F, 3 M) specialized teachers, 6 (3 F, 3 M)
professional special needs educators, 13 (8 F, 5 M) social-
health workers. The subjects were recruited from several Ital-
ian State Education Institutes (Comprehensive Institute in
Sant’Elia a Pianisi - CB); State Elementary School Stella Po-
lare - RM; Social-Psycho-Pedagogical Lyceum, Cisternino -
BR; Elementary School of Selci, San Giustino - PG), and from
several Assistance Associations, relevant at regional or na-
tional level (Unione Italiana Ciechi, Associazione Italiana
Sclerosi Multipla, Associazione Perlha, Fondazione Italiana
Verso il futuro, Parent Project Onlus, Centro Arcobaleno, Co-
operativa Fiore Verde), located in four Italian regions: Um-
bria, Lazio, Molise, and Apulia.
Research Tools
The focus group, being at the same time an observation
technique and a type of interview, was chosen as the main tool
to gather the data relevant for the research aims. Several
authors [15-21] highlight the appropriateness of the focus
group as an investigation tool when the researcher is concerned
about exploring complex ideas, connected with personality
dynamics, such as opinions, beliefs, emotions, and motivations.
Along with the indications of Krueger [22], the focus
group moderation, in this research, was pre-defined with the
construction, in the pre-experimental stage, of a Moderation
Grid, including a topic guide implemented in a questioning
route (Table 2).
The topic guide identifies the thematic units to be ex-
plored during the focus group, with a hierarchical sequence,
organized according to the ‘superficial/in depth’ polarity and
it also allows the temporal subdivision of the discussion in
four primary stages: introduction, interpersonal facilitation,
deep enquiry, and conclusion.
The questioning route is the articulation of the topic
guide in a carefully predefined sequence of questions, mostly
‘open’, eventually including ‘gradation’ exercises. The latter
are precious tools to reveal the cultural models that implic-
itly guide people in their daily life.
Research Stages
The research was developed in two consecutive stages:
pre-experimental and experimental.
Pre-experimental stage - In this stage we defined the goals
of the research, along with the tools of investigation and
analysis. In order to precisely assess the foremost disability
model in each group of subjects, we arranged 17 focus groups
(Table 1), homogeneous in social role and residence of the
Table 1. Number of Focus Groups and Participants, Divided by Region and Role
Lazio Apulia Molise Umbria
Total by Role
FG* NP** FG* NP** FG* NP** FG* NP** FG* NP**
Parents of disabled students 4 21 1 5 1 4 6 30
Parents of non disabled students 1 7 1 7
Non-specialized teachers 1 6 1 7 1 7 3 20
Specialized teachers 1 3 1 6 1 5 3 14
Special needs educators 1 6 1 6
Social-health workers 1 5 2 8 3 13
Total by Region 7 37 2 10 3 19 5 24 17 90
*Number of Focus groups. **Number of participants.
40 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
In this stage were also specified both the thematic units
to be discussed (topic guide) and the articulation and se-
quence of the questions to be addressed to the participants
(questioning route). The ICF and the biopsychosocial model
were the reference points to identify the topics and the ques-
tions. More specifically, the definition of the questioning
route, when the thematic units of the topic guide were speci-
fied, was oriented to reveal, rather than the opinions ‘about
disability’, the direct experiences ‘of disability’ lived by the
participants in first person.
We believed, for instance, that the diffusion of the uni-
versal disability model - characterizing the revision process
that led from International Classification of Impairments,
Disabilities, and Handicaps (ICIDH) [23] to ICF [7] - was
better observable by posing the question: ‘Did you ever ex-
perience disability conditions?’, rather than ‘Do you think
that everybody has experienced a disability condition at least
once in his/her life?’.
During the phase of setting up the questions, we also de-
cided to include concepts such as disablement, limitation,
disadvantage, handicap, and all the other expressions com-
monly used with similar meaning, within the single term
‘disability’ as an umbrella term [5] to reduce possible termi-
nological misunderstanding.
The choice of the tools for the analysis largely depended
on the aim of the study itself, in addition to the type of data we
gathered. In the manual text analysis a top-down procedure
was used: starting from the models of disability as they have
been described in the literature, the phrases of the focus group
participants, which were more adherent to a concept of a dis-
ability model, were codified as belonging to that model. Dif-
ferently, in the analysis assisted by Atlas.ti software a bottom-
up procedure was carried out. In that case, the assessment of
the underlying disability models, starting from the coding of
the main representations which emerges from the focus
groups, is a consistent operation to the approach supported by
the scientific foundations of the Grounded Theory [24]. The
programme Atlas.ti was designed within the frame of the
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
(CAQDAS) Networking Project [25-27] at the beginning of
the 1990s: software conceived to analyse data in a qualitative
approach, by means of interpretation, compatible with the
theoretical basis of the Grounded Theory [28].
Experimental stage - In this stage we carried out 17 focus
groups in four Italian regions (Table 1). All the focus groups
conversations were audio recorded for a total of approxi-
mately 17 hours. The conversations were then transcribed,
analysed, and interpreted, following methods and procedures
described in the following paragraph.
Manual Text Analysis Procedures
The purpose of the manual analysis of the text was to
verify the perspectives on disability according to the differ-
ent educational roles: parents of disabled students, parents of
non disabled students, non-specialized teachers, specialized
teachers, professional special needs educators, and social-
health workers.
Firstly, all the 17 hours of audio recordings from the focus
groups were transcribed. Then, the texts were carefully read
and indexed, namely, the most significant verbal expressions
were identified and a code/index was assigned to each one.
The significant of the verbal expressions was consistently
evaluated, among the above mentioned expressions, as regards
the most adherent to one of the three disability models (medi-
cal, social, and biopsychosocial), as they have been described
in the literature. Therefore, the code categorized the sentences
according to the medical, or social, or biopsychosocial disabil-
ity model. Overall, 37 codes were identified in this phase: 17
in reference to the social model, 8 to the medical one, and 12
to the biopsychosocial one. For example:
o The code/index ‘disability as condition of diversity
created by the society’, which we referenced to the
social model, was assigned to verbal expressions such
‘…I think that the paradox about the people with a more or
less severe handicap is not about themselves, but about us
around them, they don’t know what we are asking for, the
problem is us, not them…’.
Table 2. The Moderation Grid
Topic Guide Questioning Route
Personal opinions on the con-
cept of disability
What is disability?
Universal model Did you ever experience disability conditions?
Adhesion to the medical, social,
or biopsychosocial models
Gradation exercise
Did you experienced disability as:
- a personal condition
- a condition created by the physical/social environment
- a condition created by personal characteristics and environmental characteristics
Ability and Disability When you perceived your disability, what relation did you have with your abilities? They were all eliminated?
Presentation of Rosanna Benzi’s story and narration concerning of Vineyard Island’s deaf community
Is it possible to perceive oneself as well functioning, even possessing disabilities?
Types of intervention
How we should intervene to improve the conditions of disability?
On this basis, would you be willing to change invalidity scores?
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 41
Indeed, according to the social model, the disability has
nothing to do with the body; rather, it is a consequence of
environmental and cultural barriers [30].
o The code/index ‘disability and ability in a continuum
that we referenced to the biopsychosocial model, was
assigned to expressions such as:
‘…but there is nobody completely able or completely dis-
Indeed, the biopsychosocial model conceives ability–
disability as a continuum, so that the complete absence of
ability is a limiting case of theoretic interest only: [7].
o The code/index ‘disability as physical condition’,
referenced to the medical model, was assigned to
statements such as:
‘…there is a physical disability, it’s a reality…’
The medical model, instead, views disability as a linear
and direct consequence of a body impairment [5, § 5.2; 23].
After the manual coding, we calculated the more frequent
indexes in each focus group, and we assigned to each educa-
tional role the prevailing disability model.
In a qualitative analysis, a less frequency does not neces-
sarily mean less relevance. At all events, since the goal of
our study is not a survey on the most relevant concepts about
disability, but it is about the expression modalities of thought
on disability, the frequency has been considered a clue of
Manual Text Analysis Results
The text analysis manually performed highlighted differ-
ent perspectives on disability, according to the educational
role held by each group of participants. Table 3 shows the
evaluations of the disability models, in each role-
homogeneous group.
In every role-homogeneous group, except for the special
needs educators’ one, the social model appeared as the pre-
vailing one. However, as showed in Table 3, in more than
one group the evaluation was not so univocal.
Among the parents of disabled and the non-specialized
teachers, the social disability model was evaluated as the
foremost, since the codes/indexes relative to that model were
the most frequent ones in almost all the focus groups; only in
a group of non-specialized teachers in Molise, the biopsy-
chosocial model was indicated as the more represented.
It was not possible to attribute a single model to the other
groups. Among the parents of non disabled children, even
though the social model seemed to prevail, the presence of
the medical and the biopsychosocial model were detected. In
particular, the medical model was especially used for the
‘tragic’ aspect of disability, and associated in negative terms
to the condition of the disabled, such as ‘problema’ (prob-
lem) and ‘croce’ (a cross to bear). Among the specialized
teachers and the social-health workers emerged an oscillation
between the social and the biopsychosocial models. This
would confirm what is reported in literature about the ap-
pearance of a so-called transitional model that would ac-
count for aspects of both models [10, 11].
Procedure of the Analysis Assisted by Atlas.ti Software
The text analysis was performed also with a computerized
procedure, using the Atlas.ti software for qualitative analyses.
The first operative phase in Atlas.ti work was the crea-
tion of the Hermeneutic Unit, which includes different ele-
ments to be analysed (texts, audio and video recordings) - in
our case, only texts - that, once inputted, form the so-called
Primary Documents.
After entering the Primary Documents in the Hermeneutic
Unit we moved on to the data coding, with the categorization
process of the Grounded theory [31], divided in the following
coding phases: 1 - open coding (breaking down, examining,
comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data often, in
terms of properties and dimensions [24]; 2 - selective coding
(that is the process of choosing one category to be the core
category, and relating all other categories to that category); 3 -
comparison and categorization; 4 - re-reading and modifying.
In the ‘open coding’ phase, the significant text fragments
about disability (quotations) were identified and a descriptive
code was assigned to each one. For instance, the following
definition of disability expressed by a parent in a focus group:
‘…everything that differentiates someone or something from…
from being able or not being able to do it... or having difficul-
ties in doing it…’, was coded as ‘disability seen as limitation
of ability’.
This coding allowed us to group the contents of the texts
into conceptual cores, summarizing their information load.
Unlike the manual procedure, where the significant parts
were labelled with codes immediately related to the three
disability models (top-down procedure), in the coding with
Table 3. Evaluation of Disability Models Prevailing in the Groups, As Resulting from the Manual Text Analysis. The Number
Points Out the Frequency of the Three Disability Models Codes
Roles Medical Model Social Model Biopsychosocial Model
Parents of disabled students 63 215* 80
Parents of non disabled students 18 23* 15
Non-specialized teachers 45 71* 43
Specialized teachers 22 60* 44**
Special needs educators 4 12 20*
Social-health workers 28 55* 51**
*Model prevalent describing of the opinions for the majority of the group. **Model spread in the group even if not descriptive of the opinions of the majority.
42 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
Atlas.ti the codes were assigned by letting the data take the
lead. By following this procedure, we were able to verify the
correspondences of these codes to the theoretical aspects of
each model. 36 codes were created from this analysis, among
o enabling social environment (‘I think that disabled
must be included not stigmatized’);
o disabling social environment (‘I am talking about a
disabled child with serious emotional and behav-
ioural problems, who lives expecting that other peo-
ple which are his/her personal physical and non
physical needs, because he/she is not understood...’);
o enabling social-educational environment (if every-
body plays football and someone else does not, it’s
unfair because everybody must have chance to play...
and vice versa; if everybody uses a pen and someone
else plasticine, why? Everybody must have the chance
to use plasticine and play football…’);
o disabling social-educational environment (‘It often
happens that classmates pick on disabled students’);
o environmental barriers (There were lots of barriers
and problems, it was impossible to get bus…use the
underground system… you cannot use a push-
chair…because not all underground stations have a
o diversity of the disable (‘They are children that give
you something, they encourage you and know having
not something less than others but something differ-
o disability as a subjective condition (‘An insecure
individual feels always disability in person, well, at
least, I always feel that’);
o disability not as absence of ability (‘I think that if
someone is not able to communicate in words he/she
will try to do it in a different way…it’s the same
thing when you don’t see…you’ll try to touch); etc.
In a subsequent phase, the 36 codes were joined in ‘fami-
lies’ representing theoretical dimensions containing the in-
formation of empirical indicators (in our case, the codes).
The unification into families was carried out at different lev-
1. Of the 36 original codes, 21, sharing similar concep-
tual cores, were put together in 3 code families: the
‘environment’, the ‘disability as personal condition’,
thecontinuum between ability and disability’;
2. All the 36 codes were unified according to established
theoretical dimensions, in relation to 3 disability
models: medical model, social model, and biopsycho-
social model;
3. All the 36 codes were categorized in 5 dimensions
related to personal experience: opinions, attitudes,
behaviours, myths/stereotypes for each focus group,
and emotions (anger, anguish, sadness, disgust, joy)
for only 6 focus groups (one for each educational
Results of the Qualitative Analysis Assisted by Atlas.ti
The text analysis carried out with the computerized proc-
ess partially confirmed the results emerged from manual
indexing, showing some more nuances within and among the
The social model is spread in all the role-homogeneous
groups, except for the specialized teachers. However, only
the parents of disabled students and the non-specialized
teachers seem to claim decisively their adhesion to the social
model, because of the small occurrence of codes related to
other models. The parents of non disabled students oscillate
between the social and the medical models, confirming what
came out from the manual analysis. A result in contrast with
the outcome of the manual procedure is the one concerning
the special needs educators, seeming to oscillate between the
social and biopsychosocial models, hence not showing a
preference for the latter.
Lastly, the groups of specialized teachers and social-
health workers call for a more articulated interpretation.
Among the social-health workers, the social model is the
foremost, despite the presence of several assumptions rela-
tive to the biopsychosocial model. Among the specialized
teachers an oscillation among all the three disability models
emerges. The medical model, which in the preceding manual
analysis seemed to be maintained only by a group of non-
specialized teachers from the Molise region and, partially, by
the parents of non disabled students, appeared also among
the specialized teachers and the social-health workers.
The biopsychosocial model does not prevail in any
group, but is more present among the social-health workers
and the special needs educators, where it coexists with the
social model and, rarely, with the medical one.
Thus, the quantitative analysis assisted by Atlas.ti seems
to confirm the appearance of a transitional model
, which
largely features elements coming from the social and the
biopsychosocial models and, in a lesser way, elements com-
ing from the medical model. Moreover, the transitional
model seems to spread only among the special needs educa-
tors and the social-health workers. The latter, in fact, seem to
have a perception of disability closer to the biopsychosocial
model, compared to the non-specialized teachers who high-
light the need for a direct intervention on the context. The
social-health workers succeed in not idealizing disability, by
blaming only the environment, but, on the contrary, bear
well in mind that the causes have to be tracked down in the
interaction between personal and environmental conditions.
The non-specialized teachers, on the conceptual level, be-
lieve that disability is a condition of the person, caused by
deficit, by disablements of various types, and believe that the
definition of pathology depends on external parameters cho-
sen by following models that could differ according to social
and cultural environment. On the operative level, they feel
that the true disability that ‘their students’ face is born
through the comparison with the other students and with an
environment not devised to fit everyone’s needs. The parents
of disabled students are those showing the stronger adhesion
to the social model. In their focus groups there is a recur-
rence of the emphasis on the key-role of the environment in
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 43
discriminating and excluding the disabled, but also the criti-
cism towards a disabling social-political environment. Most
probably, the reaction of these parents when faced with the
disability of their children is influenced by emotional, cogni-
tive, and relational factors, as it is evident from the greater
emotional participation in their focus groups. They daily
experience their children’s discrimination and realize that,
while they regard them as people, their children are consid-
ered different in society.
The parallel analysis developed at the ‘dimensions of
experience’ level, allowed us to discover the existence of a
relationship among disability models and the modalities of
expression of the participants. Parents, for example, seem to
support some assumptions of the biopsychosocial model, but
only at a level of ‘opinions’, while when they refer to ‘be-
haviours’ those assumptions disappear and the social model
reappears. In almost all the groups, the medical model is
often expressed with ‘behaviours’, along with emotions like
‘anguish’ and ‘sadness’. Finally, the social model is ex-
pressed through ‘opinions’, ‘behaviours’, and emotions such
as ‘anger’ and ‘disgust’.
Quantitative Analysis Hypothesis
We performed the analysis to test the following hypothe-
sis: if the qualitative interpretation aiming to assign a disabil-
ity model (medical, social, or biopsychosocial) to the partici-
pants of each focus group according to the majority of the
opinions of their components, is true, then we must find a
greater number of those codes (attributed to the texts of each
focus group) united in the ‘family’ relative to the model ap-
pearing in each focus group.
Quantitative Analysis by Means of Chi-Square Test
The quantitative analysis was carried out on the 17 role-
and region-homogeneous focus groups. The frequencies of
36 codes, of 3 “code families” categories, of 3 disability
models, and of 5 personal experience dimensions, obtained
with Atlas.ti, were analysed using the Chi-square () with k-
l degree of freedom (where k is the number of role-
homogeneous groups) in order to test the hypothesis that the
observed frequencies do not differ from their expected val-
ues in each focus group. About the disability models and the
personal experience dimensions, we summed the occurrences
of the codes relative to the same disability model and each
occurrence of the codes relative to the same personal experi-
ence dimension. Then, we calculated the significance of the
differences within and among the groups.
Results of Quantitative Analysis Using  Distribution
A first analysis was carried out to check the differences
among the 17 groups according to the 3 code families (envi-
ronment, disability as personal condition, continuum be-
tween ability and disability) and the remaining 15 codes not
included in the above 3 categories.
Table 4. Distribution of Observed and Expected Frequencies (Among and Within) of the 3 ‘Code Families’ in the Groups, and
Relative Significance Scores, Applying the  Test (p < .05)
Code Families
Disability as Personal
Ability/Disability Continuum
Expected Value Expected Value Expected Value
Focus Group
Among Within
Among Within
Among Within
FG1 14 19.35 7,33 3 7.76 7,33 5 7.00 7,33 0.009
FG13 34 19.35 14,67 2 7.76 14,67 8 7.00 14,67 0.005
FG14 26 19.35 12,67 5 7.76 12,67 7 7.00 12,67 0.005
FG15 19
19.35 8,67 6 7.76 8,67 1 7.00 8,67 0.005
Apulia FG7 29 19.35 17,33 8 7.76 17,33 15 7.00 17,33 0.005
Parents of disabled students
FG17 18 19.35 9,00 3 7.76 9,00 6 7.00 9,00 0.005
Parents of non-disabled students Lazio FG2 17 19.35 12,67 14 7.76 12,67 7 7.00 12,67 0.125
Lazio FG3 15 19.35 8,67 5 7.76 8,67 6 7.00 8,67 0.030
Molise FG8 14 19.35 10,67 14 7.76 10,67 4 7.00 10,67 0.005
Non-specialized teachers
FG9 31 19.35 17,67 16 7.76 17,67 6 7.00 17,67 0.005
Lazio FG4 7 19.35 6,00 8 7.76 6,00 3 7.00 6,00 0.311
Molise FG10 21 19.35 10,00 7 7.76 10,00 2 7.00 10,00 0.005
Specialized teachers
FG11 25 19.35 12,67 6 7.76 12,67 7 7.00 12,67 0.005
Apulia FG5 23 19.35 18,33 15 7.76 18,33 17 7.00 18,33 0.389
FG12 11 19.35 8,00 6 7.76 8,00 7 7.00 8,00 0.417
Social-health workers
FG16 6 19.35 8,33 10 7.76 8,33 9 7.00 8,33 0.595
Special needs educators Molise FG6 19 19.35 10,67 4 7.76 10,67 9 7.00 10,67 0.005
Sig. 0.005 0.005 0.005
44 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
All the 3 code families showed significant results among
the groups (Table 4). The distribution of the code families
within each role- and region-homogeneous group resulted
significant in almost all the groups, except in 5 of them: one
of parents of non disabled students of Lazio, one of special-
ized teachers of Lazio, and three of social-health workers of
Apulia and Umbria.
Table 4 shows the frequency distributions of the 3 code
families in the groups.
Only 4 of the remaining 15 codes, not included in the
above categories, resulted significantly different among the
groups: ‘diversity of the disabled’, ‘tragic vision of disabil-
ity’, ‘disability not a synonym of handicap’, and ‘inclusive
interventions’ (Table 5). Only 2 of the 4 codes, namely ‘di-
versity of the disabled’ and ‘tragic vision of disability’ (typi-
cal of the medical disability model), seem to be a part of the
cultural background of all the participants (exception made
for only 2 groups, where these codes were never recorded).
The significance values in the distribution of the 4 codes
within each group seem influenced by the presence (FG7,
FG8, FG9, FG10, FG11, FG12 and FG15) or absence (FG1,
FG2, FG3, FG4, FG5, FG6, FG13, FG14, FG16 and FG17)
of the codes ‘disability not a synonym of handicap’ and ‘in-
clusive interventions’ (as noted above), rather than by the
specific distribution of the values of the 4 codes observed in
each group. In fact, the distribution of the observed values
for the codes ‘diversity of the disabled’ and ‘tragic vision of
disability’ does not reach significance for the  test (excep-
tion made for FG14).
A subsequent statistical analysis highlighted significant
differences among the groups concerning the distribution of
2 out of 3 disability models: the social and the medical ones
(Table 6). No significant differences were observed for the
biopsychosocial model, equally spread over the groups, di-
vided by role or by region, although it appears with some
more frequency in the subjects from Umbria (with an impor-
tant exception concerning the parents of disabled students in
Apulia). In general, significant differences in the distribution
of the 3 models appear in all the groups, with the exception
of the following: parents of non disabled, specialized teach-
ers from Lazio, social-health workers. This result is congru-
Table 5. Distribution of Observed and Expected Frequencies (Among and Within) of the 4 Codes Found Significant in the Groups
and Relative Significance Scores, Applying the  Test (p < .05)
Diversity of
the Disabled
Tragic Vision
of Disability
Disability Not as a
Synonym of Handicap
Value Focus Group
FG1 0 2.82 0.20 0 2.53 0.20 0 0.82 0.20 0 0.59 0.20 n.a.
FG13 9 2.82 3.20 7 2.53 3.20 0 0.82 3.20 0 0.59 3.20 0,005
FG14 8 2.82 1.80 1 2.53 1.80 0 0.82 1.80 0 0.59 1.80 0,005
FG15 7
2.82 4.00 9 2.53 4.00 1 0.82 4.00 0 0.59 4.00 0,005
Apulia FG7 5 2.82 1.80 1 2.53 1.80 3 0.82 1.80 0 0.59 1.80 0,087
Umbria FG17 0
2.82 0.40 2 2.53 0.40 0 0.82 0.40 0 0.59 0.40 0,112
of non-
Lazio FG2 1
2.82 0.80 2 2.53 0.80 0 0.82 0.80 0 0.59 0.80 0,300
Lazio FG3 0 2.82 1.40 3 2.53 1.40 0 0.82 1.40 0 0.59 1.40 0,029
Molise FG8 4 2.82 2.60 7 2.53 2.60 2 0.82 2.60 0 0.59 2.60 0,041
Umbria FG9 5
2.82 3.20 3 2.53 3.20 3 0.82 3.20 4 0.59 3.20 0,865
Lazio FG4 0 2.82 0.00 0 2.53 0.00 0 0.82 0.00 0 0.59 0.00 n.a.
Molise FG10 2 2.82 1.00 1 2.53 1.00 1 0.82 1.00 1 0.59 1.00 0,896
Umbria FG11 2
2.82 2.60 2 2.53 2.60 3 0.82 2.60 3 0.59 2.60 0,940
Apulia FG5 2 2.82 0.40 0 2.53 0.40 0 0.82 0.40 0 0.59 0.40 0,112
FG12 2 2.82 1.60 2 2.53 1.60 1 0.82 1.60 2 0.59 1.60 0,934
FG16 1
2.82 0.80 1 2.53 0.80 0 0.82 0.80 0 0.59 0.80 0,572
Molise FG6 0
2.82 0.80 2 2.53 0.80 0 0.82 0.80 0 0.59 0.80 0,112
Sig. 0.002 0,002 0.046 0,005
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 45
ent with the outcome of the analysis carried out on the 3
code families (Table 4).
The distribution of the 5 dimensions concerning personal
experience resulted significantly different within all the
groups (Table 7). Parents, teachers, social-health workers,
and special needs educators express themselves mainly
showing opinions and behaviours, while emotions like anger,
anguish, sadness, disgust, and joy appear only in parents and
non-specialized teachers.
As indicated in Table 7, the analysis concerning the emo-
tions was carried out only on 6 groups homogeneous for
educative role. In those groups in which opinions and behav-
iours showed a prevalence of the social model these dimen-
sions were emotionally expressed as well; in groups in which
the biopsychosocial model prevailed, the participants ex-
pressed mainly opinions, while in groups with preference for
the medical model, the participants expressed both behav-
iours and opinions. Lastly, the distribution of opinions, be-
haviours, and emotions, resulted significantly different,
while the opposite was true for the distribution of attitudes
and myths/stereotypes.
The study reached the aim to verify the perspective on
disability according to the different educational roles.
The results obtained from the qualitative analysis showed
that the horizon of perspectives is much more diversified
than the division in medical, social, and biopsychosocial
models. Moreover, the qualitative analysis assisted by the
software highlighted, in some cases, different perspectives
on disability in contrast with the ones that appeared in the
manual textual analysis (Table 8).
These differences demonstrate that the bottom-up proce-
dure assisted by Atlas.ti enabled us to notice more different
perspectives on disability among the groups and, sometimes,
also within the groups themselves. Anyway, we can affirm
that the specific role that the participants play in an educa-
tional context orients their visions concerning disability.
Hence, from the results we can conclude that:
The social-health workers and the special needs edu-
cators, as interpreted on the basis of the qualitative
analysis results, refer more to a transitional model lo-
Table 6. Distribution of Observed and Expected Frequencies (Among and Within) of the 3 Disability Models in the Groups and
Relative Significance Scores, Applying the  Test (p < .05)
Disability Models
Medical Model Social Model Biopsychosocial Model
Expected Value Expected Value Expected Value
Focus Group [FG]
Among Within
Among Within
Among Within
FG1 5 11.18 9.33 16 26.00 9.33 7 10.94 9.33 0.025
FG13 10 11.18 22.33 45 26.00 22.33 12 10.94 22.33 0.005
FG14 7 11.18 18.00 35 26.00 18.00 12 10.94 18.00 0.005
FG15 16
11.18 18.33 33 26.00 18.33 6 10.94 18.33 0.005
Apulia FG7 9 11.18 22.00 41 26.00 22.00 16 10.94 22.00 0.005
Parents of
Umbria FG17 5
11.18 11.00 19 26.00 11.00 9 10.94 11.00 0.009
Parents of
Lazio FG2 18
11.18 16.33 21 26.00 16.33 10 10.94 16.33 0.138
Lazio FG3 8 11.18 12.00 20 26.00 12.00 8 10.94 12.00 0.018
Molise FG8 22 11.18 17.33 21 26.00 17.33 9 10.94 17.33 0.049
Umbria FG9 22
11.18 25.67 44 26.00 25.67 11 10.94 25.67 0.005
Lazio FG4 9 11.18 7.33 7 26.00 7.33 6 10.94 7.33 0.727
Molise FG10 9 11.18 13.67 27 26.00 13.67 5 10.94 13.67 0.005
Umbria FG11 8
11.18 19.33 37 26.00 19.33 13 10.94 19.33 0.005
Apulia FG5 16 11.18 20.33 26 26.00 20.33 19 10.94 20.33 0.274
FG12 8 11.18 12.00 19 26.00 12.00 13 10.94 12.00 0.103
FG16 11
11.18 13.33 9 26.00 13.33 16 10.94 13.33 0.338
Molise FG6 7
11.18 14.33 22 26.00 14.33 14 10.94 14.33 0.020
Sig. 0.005 0.005 0.111
46 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
cated in the interplay between the social and the bi-
opsychosocial ones; however, from the software as-
sisted analysis it results that only among the educa-
tors there is a significant prevalence of the values con-
nected to the social and biopsychosocial models with
respect to the medical one;
The parents of disabled students, the non-specialized
teachers, and the majority of the specialized teachers
Table 7. Distribution of Observed and Expected Frequencies (Among and Within) of the 5 Dimensions of Personal Experience in
the Groups and Relative Significance Scores, Applying the  Test (p < .05)
Dimensions of Personal Experience
Opinions Attitudes Behaviours
Myths and Stereo-
Focus Group [FG]
Observed Value
Observed Value
Observed Value
Observed Value
Observed Value
Parents of
disabled students
FG1 18
40.76 6.60 1 0.35 6.60 9 6.65 6.60 0 0.24 6.60 5 3.50 6.60 0.005
Parents of non
disabled students
FG2 34
40.76 11.80 1 0.35 11.80 18 6.65 11.80 1 0.24 11.80 5 3.50 11.80 0.005
FG3 13
40.76 9.40 0 0.35 9.40 23 6.65 9.40 0 0.24 9.40 11 3.50 9.40 0.005
FG4 15 40.76 4.60 0 0.35 4.60 8 6.65 4.60 0 0.24 4.60 0 3.50 4.60 0.005
FG5 60 40.76 12.20 0 0.35 12.20 1 6.65 12.20 0 0.24 12.20 0 3.50 12.20 0.005
Special needs
FG6 41 40.76 8.60 0 0.35 8.60 2 6.65 8.60 0 0.24 8.60 0 3.50 8.60 0.005
59 40.76 16.25 0 0.35 16.25 5 6.65 16.25 1 0.24 16.25 0.005
46 40.76 13.50 0 0.35 13.50 8 6.65 13.50 0 0.24 13.50 0.005
49 40.76 14.00 0 0.35 14.00 6 6.65 14.00 1 0.24 14.00 0.005
FG7 62 40.76 16.25 1 0.35 16.25 2 6.65 16.25 0 0.24 16.25 0.005
of disabled
26 40.76 8.00 0 0.35 8.00 6 6.65 8.00 0 0.24 8.00 0.005
FG8 47 40.76 13.25 1 0.35 13.25 5 6.65 13.25 0 0.24 13.25 0.005
FG9 69 40.76 19.50 1 0.35 19.50 8 6.65 19.50 0 0.24 19.50 0.005
35 40.76 9.00 0 0.35 9.00 1 6.65 9.00 0 0.24 9.00 0.005
52 40.76 14.25 1 0.35 14.25 4 6.65 14.25 0 0.24 14.25 0.005
39 40.76 9.75 0 0.35 9.75 0 6.65 9.75 0 0.24 9.75 0.005
28 40.76 9.00 0 0.35 9.00 7 6.65 9.00 1 0.24 9.00
Sig. 0.005 0.809 0.005 0.673 0.005
The Disability Models in the Perspective of Parents, Teachers, and Special Needs Educators The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 47
are the groups that more adhere decisively to the
premises of the social model;
o With respect to parents of non disabled students, as
interpreted on the basis of the qualitative analysis re-
sults and confirmed by the 
test, no disability model
emerges as prevalent.
Therefore, the qualitative analysis assisted by Atlas.ti
mostly confirmed the appearance of a transitional model
including aspects of the social and biopsychosocial ones, in
addition to some elements of the medical model.
In the quantitative analysis carried out with the  test, the
statistical hypotheses were verified. The statistical analysis
of the distribution of disability models in the groups con-
firmed that the attribution of a specific model to each group
depends on the greater scores of the codes united in the
‘family’ referring to the model occurring in each group. The
appearance of significant differences in codes’ and code
families’ distributions, considering the different disability
models, confirms that there are different visions of disability
spread among the groups according to the different educa-
tional roles, but also shows that all the participants share
common elements with reference to disability. In fact, a cer-
tain amount of ‘tragedy’ and ‘diversity’ colours the declara-
tions of the participants, independently from their personal
way of defining disability. Moreover, the quantitative analy-
sis confirmed the results obtained with the qualitative analy-
sis assisted by Atlas.ti concerning the presence of the medi-
cal model, not only among the parents of disabled students,
but partially also among the social-health workers. The sta-
tistical analysis of the personal experiences’ distribution in
the groups highlighted an interesting correlation among the
foremost disability model in each group and the modalities
of expression of the personal experiences of the participants.
This would explain even more the presence, within the
groups, of different perspectives on disability.
The presence of different models within the groups leads
to some additional conclusions:
o There is a cultural predisposition for the adhesion to
the biopsychosocial model, since the participants
have the tendency to define disability in terms of in-
dividual functioning, rather than using abil-
ity/inability polarities. This would be proved by the
fact that the groups more exposed to educational, in-
formative, and formative agents (social-health workers
and educators) are also the ones more in transit
among the models, differently from the parents of dis-
abled students, whose adhesion to the social model is
sharper and less blurred.
o Among the parents of non disabled students, the pres-
ence of a perspective on disability partially different
compared to the one that parents of disabled students
have, let us think over the role played by the experi-
ence of disability for the parents.
o The adhesion of the parents of disabled students to
the social model, also in the light of the analyses
based on transcriptions, appears to be based to the
frequent use of the psychological mechanisms of de-
nial: minimizing their children physical problems,
opposing resistance to the acknowledgement of the
importance of disablements, of the deficits, etc. These
denial mechanisms would favour in parents a reduc-
tion of the importance of the limitation of individual
abilities and an enhancement of the relevance of re-
strictions in participation to the social life.
o The use of the terms such us ‘disability’ and ‘handi-
cap’ as synonyms, differently from the use that both
ICIDH and ICF make of them, pushes us to consider
the influence that these documents have on Italian cul-
ture. We must certainly keep in mind that the term
‘handicap’ sounds more neutral than ‘disability’ in
Italian, differently than in English where it sounds as
negative, and that is the reason why the choice of ICF
was to substitute it definitely with the general term
‘disability [5, Annex 1, pp. 187-188]. Moreover, in
the Italian legislation about disability the term
‘handicap’ is used, following the definition provided
by ICIDH: certainly this use also has a much stronger
social impact in comparison to the ICF, which, pro-
posing the general term ‘disability, has not taken
into account the meaning that handicap and disability
have in Italian and French languages. The fact that
among the participants the terms ‘disability’ and
‘handicapwere used as synonyms, and were not
hence interpreted as indicating different disability
models, could have been a consequence of the fact that
the moderators explained that they used the term
disability’ as a comprehensive general term (therefore
as a synonym for ‘handicap’).
Different representations of disability, determined and
sustained by different models, probably create diverse emo-
tions and behaviours towards disabled people. Knowing
which disability model prevails within a specific group of
people may be of crucial importance for planning and im-
plementing adequate projects of intervention and individual-
ized training.
Moreover, the current study allows us to know the real
spreading of the biopsychosocial model proposed by WHO
[5, 7] among educators and parents and verify which steps
are still necessary so that this model is universally shared. In
fact, biopsychosocial model may provide school and society
with more adequate tools to give more complex mental rep-
resentations of disability, less stereotyped and closer to dis-
abled people’s real life as they live everyday rather than
based on prejudices and stereotypes.
The scarce diffusion of the biopsychosocial model among
the parents highlights the lack of a vision ‘opened’ to per-
spective of personal development, of social growth, of im-
provement of the life quality standards. This suggests a pri-
ority: the need to extend the educational instances also to
parents and caregivers, in order to promote a more efficient
management of personal and environmental resources in
facing their children’s disability, in the perspective of devel-
oping and promoting a new ‘culture of diversities’.
As S. Federici and M. Olivetti Belardinelli declare [8],
the adoption of the biopsychosocial model, on the field of
Cognitive Psychology, offers new perspectives, detaching
the experimental paradigms from the prejudice of ‘normal’
mental functioning. The diverse and numerous ways to oper-
ate, also those that could be classified as abnormal and dis-
48 The Open Education Journal, 2008, Volume 1 Federici et al.
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Received: April 30, 2008 Revised: September 24, 2008 Accepted: September 27, 2008
© Federici et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.
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Table 8. Comparing Results from the Manual Text Analysis and Qualitative Analysis Assisted by Atlas.Ti as Regards the Fre-
quency of Disability Models in the Groups. The Number Points out the Frequency of the Three Disability Models Codes
Roles Medical Model Social Model Biopsychosocial Model
Manual Atlas.ti Manual Atlas.ti Manual Atlas.ti
Parents of disabled students 63 52 215* 189* 80** 62
Parents of non disabled students 18 18 23 21 15 10
Non-specialized teachers 45 52** 71* 85* 43 28
Specialized teachers 22 26 60* 71* 44** 24
Special needs educators 4 7 12 22* 20* 14
Social-health workers 28 35 55* 54 51** 48
*Model prevalent describing the opinions for the majority of the group. **model spread in the group even if not descriptive of the opinions of the majority.
... Disability models are categorical representations in which to understand, build and share social relationships. These models offer social perspectives (GOFFMAN, 1963, p. 138) either as frames, in which everyone finds his or her own identity, or as scripts, in which identities are represented in a complex system of defined attributes that lets us make decisions and judgments (BICKENBACH, 2012;MELONI, 2008, 2009;FEDERICI, MELONI, et al., 2008). Since the late 1960s, scientific literature has gathered various social perspectives on disability, grouping them into three main theoretical models: medical, social, and biopsychosocial (BICKENBACH et al., 1999;WHO, 2001). ...
... According to the SSSM, cultural phenomena are completely acquired during the process of development and socialization, and the innate side of cognitive organization is limited to procedural or algorithmic features, which are privy to content (SPERBER et al., 2004). The influence of the SSSM on disability studies is such that the research paradigms take the nature of disability for granted because of a cultural construction process about diversity and difference, neglecting any element related to the innate cognitive architecture of humans (e.g., LIVNEH, 1988, 2000;FEDERICI and MELONI, 2008;FEDERICI et al., 2009;FEDERICI, MELONI, et al., 2008). ...
... According to the SSSM, cultural phenomena are completely acquired during the process of development and socialization, and the innate side of cognitive organization is limited to procedural or algorithmic features, which are privy to content (SPERBER et al., 2004). The influence of the SSSM on disability studies is such that the research paradigms take the nature of disability for granted because of a cultural construction process about diversity and difference, neglecting any element related to the innate cognitive architecture of humans (e.g., LIVNEH, 1988, 2000;FEDERICI and MELONI, 2008;FEDERICI et al., 2009;FEDERICI, MELONI, et al., 2008). ...
Conference Paper
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Implicit social cognition is an empirical phenomenon encompassing the effects of experience on judgements and decisions. We evaluate whether the wide range of attitudes towards people with disabilities are attributable to universal and species-specific cognitive constraints. We propose that there is a link between an evolved mechanism of avoidance of disease and contemporary prejudices affecting people with physical disabilities. Using the Implicit Association Test and two questionnaires evaluating sensitivity to perceived disgust and vulnerability to disease, we found strong, implicit associations of the concept, “disability,” with “illness” and “unpleasantness” and a significant positive correlation between disgust and the implicit association between the attributes, “disability/unpleasantness.” The results provide evidence for a domain-specific cognitive mechanism underpinning the cultural construction of the medical model. In addition, the unpleasantness of disability seems grounded in the germs of aversion and the contamination of disgust.
... These models have influenced the education of children from the time children enter primary school. While the individual model, much like creationism, seems intuitively plausible [4,25,38,39], the social model, developed as a reversal of the individual model, is as counterintuitive as evolution [25,[40][41][42][43]. Education at the University of Perugia reviewed and approved this study. The parents provided their written informed consent to participate in this study for themselves and on behalf of the children enrolled in our study. ...
... In this case, they tended to provide more socially desirable answers [49]. The most socially acceptable statements in Italian culture are, without doubt, wording that reflects the social model of disability rather the individual model [4,39]. The Italian legislature has promoted social inclusion of people with disability (Law 517/77) for more than 40 years; meanwhile, twenty-two years of integration of students with disabilities at all school levels (Law 104/92) [50] have widespread a social model of disability. ...
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Dis/ability research has often been done on dis/abled subjects, positioning them beneath the researcher as something to be studied. Through this commentary, we share our background as a research lab within an academic institution and propose an emancipatory educational action research (EEAR) (Kinsler 2010) framework for academic leaders to utilize to include dis/abled students in an anti-oppressive research model. We also share the unique successes and challenges we face as training drama therapists, preparing to enter a field dominated by medical models that far too often override or invalidate our experiences. In line with participatory action research (PAR) and EEAR, the framework offers steps toward creating a designated space for dis/abled students at the collegiate level to become researcher-participants and develop more presence in dis/ability research.
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