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The previous section on cultural perspectives addressed the fact that there is no universal and fixed
definition of (dis)abilities. This section explores theories around sociological perspectives; perspectives that assert that (dis)abilities are socially constructed.


In the following scenario, the teacher suspects that Leta might have an intellectual (dis)ability and she has invited Leta’s parent to a meeting to discuss whether Leta would benefit from being assessed and diagnosed.

When you are finished, write or discuss your answers to the following questions:

  • Why does Leta’s parent react the way she does?
  • What would be your first reaction as an educator when a caretaker disagrees this much with you?

Teacher: Good morning, thank you for coming in today. I would like to talk to you about Leta’s learning needs in reading and writing.

Parent: Okay. What is it exactly that you would like to talk about?

Teacher:  I believe Leta might have a learning disability. Based on my observations, I think Leta might benefit from
being assessed by our learning support specialist.

Parent: This is ridiculous. Leta is being treated unfairly and if you treated her like the other students, her ‘problems’ would disappear.

The words that are used to describe and define (dis)abilities have changed over time and reflect the history of differing and evolving attitudes towards (dis)abilities. In the nineteenth century, the term affliction was most common. Nowadays, these words are out of favour as they are often accompanied by words like victim, which emphasizes the suffering of people with (dis)abilities.

In the late nineteenth century, people started to use the term handicapped as experts started to reinterpret the world as a place of struggle for success. The term handicapped is tied to the idea that individuals with (dis)abilities have disadvantages in a world that became increasingly competitive. Since the twentieth century, the term disability has become more predominant (Baynton, n.d.).

Sociological perspectives of disability assert that (dis)abilities don’t objectively exist and that they are created by the ways we treat people.  Sociological viewpoints suggest that (dis)abilities are used to maintain a hierarchical class structure (Bryant et al., 2020). These ideas can be connected to the deficit perspective, where individuals with (dis)abilities are considered deficient.

Some critics dispute this perspective and argue that (dis)abilities are real and that sociological perspectives arise from a need for sameness (Bryant et al., 2020). They state that there are many dangers of a sociological viewpoint, including that it:

  • minimizes people’s (dis)abilities, challenges and barriers.
  • suggests that individuals with (dis)abilities are not in need of special accommodations or modifications.
  • does not provide schools and teachers with the ways and means to advocate for services to support their students(Bryant et al., 2020).

Sociological perspectives raise questions about equity and labels. If you identify with sociological perspectives, think about how you might support your students’ learning challenges without labelling them.

If you disagree with the sociological perspective, we would encourage you to empathize with individuals with a (dis)ability and how they may experience bias and discrimination. This will be explored further in the last subtopic of this chapter.

  • If there were an international law that would not allow individuals to be labelled with any kind of (dis)ability, what would be the benefits and what would be the disadvantages? Think about the influence on bias and discrimination and how educators can still meet the needs of all students.
  • Keeping in mind the three different perspectives that you have read about until now, how might you finish the conversation with Leta’s parent in the last scenario? Record or discuss your answers.


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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