Supervising Trainees With Disabilities

Argosy Presentation Introduction

Before I begin, I want to give my thanks to Dr. Nahid Aziz for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to speak on this important topic. I also want to thank your department of psychology and the training committee for hosting this event. As you may know, I have been at the APA for 11 years serving as its director of the disability issues office. Over that period of time, many students with disabilities have contacted me to share their experiences of applying to or being in psychology training programs. Some have been positive recounts of their experiences; many have been negative.

So, I want to begin my talk today by sharing one of these stories about a young psychology doctoral student with a disability seeking an internship. Her story I hope will elucidate some of what I will be discussing in my talk.

  • This is the story of a young woman named Pat (not her real name) who from all accounts seemed as competitive as any other student seeking a postdoctoral internship. She had publications under her belt, good clinical experiences, held leadership positions both during her undergraduate and graduate years, and garnered academic awards including induction into Phi Betta Kappa. Her dissertation was nearly complete.

  • Pat is also deaf, and in her essays to potential internship sites, she disclosed her disability. 

  • She also -- being both a pragmatist and behaviorist at heart – identified this hearing loss in her cover letters to ½ of the sites she applied to – these resulted in denials of an interview in every instance. To the other ½ where she didn’t disclose her disability, those yielded an invitation for an interview every time.   

  • Now, of those sites that did extend an interview, many floundered stating that they did not know she would need a sign language interpreter, or they did not have the financial resources to pay for one, or simply that they did not know how to go about hiring one. More than one site emailed her with the cost specifics of the interpreter, stating that they could not absorb this cost even for one day. One site went so far as to rescind its interview offer upon learning that it would need to secure and pay for interpreter services.

  • Now, the fun didn’t end there … it continued on to interview day when rather than asking questions related to her clinical skills, most sites focused on her disability and routinely asked inappropriate, illegal questions that raised concerns about her competency due to her disability.  

  • She left these interviews deflated, demoralized, and what she heard from the field that she was so passionate about being a part of was How can you be a psychologist with a disability? How could you possibly think that a deaf person could be successful as a psychologist; after all who would ever want to work with someone who couldn’t hear music?

Now Pat’s experiences are not unique. There are countless numbers of students with disabilities who go through similar experiences. Not only do some encounter blatant discrimination as Pat did, but many face rampant attitudinal barriers, physical barriers, and lack of access to the myriad of programs, activities, and services which other students are afforded. In a survey conducted by my office in 2008 of psychology students with disabilities, respondents were asked to indicate “the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities in studying psychology”. The largest single category of responses (54%) concerned stigma and discrimination, and negative attitudes held by faculty and staff. This was followed by lack of appropriate education and faculty training about disability issues (22%) and inexperience working with persons with disabilities (21%).

Slide 1 (PDF, 334KB)