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Interview with the Council on Social Work Education: CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival




by Deona Hooper, MSW

FilmFestLogoFnlThe Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is taking measures to incorporate new technologies with social work education. Has your professor ever showed a relevant video on the material you are studying, but everyone in the video is wearing bell bottoms or looked like that 70’s show? Well, CSWE realizes that the instructional aids for social work education must be updated in order to resonate with students of a modern era.

The Virtual Film Festival was created to allow film makers or fellow Youtube enthusiasts to create and submit videos to help aspiring social workers understand the challenges and barriers vulnerable populations are facing. I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges who helped narrow down the films selected for this year’s festival, and it was a tough job considering all of the great entries. I was amazed at the broad range of social justice issues and populations these films sought to advocate or bring about awareness.

Beginning August 1 to September 15th 2013, Social Work Helper will be doing a weekly series of articles and Live Twitter Chats in conjunction with CSWE on the film makers and the social justice issues addressed in their films. I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth Foxwell with the Council on Social Work Education in order to get a better understanding of their mission and vision for incorporating new technologies into social work education. Here is our interview:

DH:  What is the Council for Social Work Education, and could you define its purpose and scope?

CSWE: The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a nonprofit national association representing more than 2,500 individual members, as well as more than 700 graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. Founded in 1952, it is a partnership of educational and professional institutions, social welfare agencies, and private citizens, and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States. It works to strengthen the profession of social work through advocacy, research, career advancement, and education.

DH: How did the concept for the CSWE Virtual Film Festival develop? 

CSWE: For several years, the CSWE Gero-Ed Center sponsored a festival of aging-related films at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting (APM). It showed steady growth in interest and attendance. CSWE has a long-standing interest in postsecondary curriculum resources for social work education, and it was thought that a film festival at the APM encompassing the many areas of social work might be beneficial by showcasing films that could be valuable classroom tools for social work educators. Students, too, are keenly interested in multimedia as a medium and as a way of understanding issues in the field and the future clients they will serve. Adding a Virtual Film Festival was envisioned as a way to showcase student work in this area, as well as provide an expanded and flexible venue for participation by filmmakers, educators, students, and other members of the social work community.

DH: What is the vision for the CSWE Film Festivals, and how do you hope they will impact social work education?

CSWE: Many worthy films often do not register with the social work community because of a lack of funding for dissemination or a lack of awareness by filmmakers about the usefulness of their work to social work educators and students. CSWE believes it can play a valuable role in connecting filmmakers’ work to the social work classroom, whether the latter is a bricks-and-mortar version or a virtual one. One such outcome is CSWE’s free study guides for films featured in the CSWE film festivals. As the festivals have progressed, it has become more evident that members are interested in not only the use of films in their classrooms but also the production of multimedia as class projects and as a contribution to social work dialogue and research. CSWE hopes to foster these initiatives and discussion among filmmakers, educators, students, and social service professionals.

DH: What type of issues are this year’s Virtual Film Festival entrants addressing? 

CSWE: We have seen a strong interest in social justice concerns such as the needs of immigrants and refugees, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Sexual abuse is discussed in two films, including one on domestic sex trafficking. The film selection also shows the continuing importance of disability, mental health, and diversity issues to filmmakers and our audience. We are pleased to have a participant from Ethiopia and his film on cross-cultural adoption.

DH: What is the submission process for the CSWE 2014 Film Festivals, and who can make submissions? 

CSWE: Currently screeners are reviewing the submissions for the CSWE 2013 Film Festival, which will be held October 31–November 3, 2013, at CSWE’s 59th APM in Dallas, Texas. We hope to announce the Official Selection by late July.

It is anticipated that submissions for the next Virtual Film Festival will open in early February 2014, with a 6-week period for submission. Eligible films will be those made by current or newly graduated students that were produced after September 1, 2012. We welcome films pertaining to the entire spectrum of social work education, with particular interest in aging, mental health, and subjects that involve military and diverse populations.

DH: The Virtual Film Festival is a smart way of incorporating current technology such as YouTube into social work education by allowing students to produce content for possible classroom use under CSWE approval. What other ways do you plan to infuse new technologies? 

CSWE: We are looking forward to dialogue during the 2013 Virtual Film Festival via the Google Community CSWE Film Festivals and twitter chats involving the filmmakers, social work educators, social work students, and the wider community of social service professionals. CSWE also has started a blog, Moving Pictures, on multimedia pertaining to social work.

We continue to explore ways to call attention to multimedia useful to social work educators, whether it is highlighting on the CSWE Twitter feed a film clip of FDR’s speech on the enactment of the Social Security Act, providing clips from CSWE’s 1959 recruitment film Summer of Decision starring Kevin McCarthy and Suzanne Pleshette, or mentioning the BackStory radio program’s look at the history of mental health treatment in the United States. Social work educators can use new media in many creative and exciting ways, and CSWE will continue to assist them as they apply innovative teaching methods.

Here is one example of the videos selected for the festival. This video was created by MSW student Bianca Morris:

You can follow and interact with the CSWE on twitterGoogle+, and Facebook. You can also subscribe to the CSWE Youtube Channel, and view all of the films.

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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How Wearing High Heels During my Commute Helped Me to Be a Better Social Worker




Ableism is the idea that people with disabilities are not typical and are, therefore, inferior. Upon reflection, I have engaged in ableism against people with physical disabilities while on public transportation. Typically, I take public transportation during the peak hours of commuting to work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and leaving work between 4p.m. and 6p.m.

There are signs on the bus indicating that when a person with a disability enters the bus they are to be given seats in the front, and people with wheelchairs or motorized chairs, walkers, canes and women with baby strollers occupy those seats. However when the bus is crowded during those peak times there is somewhat of an ‘all bets are off approach’ to seating and people tend to disregard those signs.

My example of demonstrating ableism involves a woman with a motorized chair who entered the bus one day. When she boarded the bus, everyone sitting in the front had to move towards the back to make space for her to enter and turn her chair towards the front. On this particular day, I’d had a very bad interaction with a client at work. Mentally, I was not in a good state of mind as a result.

I also had on heels which made my feet hurt from standing. Seats on either the left or the right could be used for a person with a disability, however, the woman entered the bus and immediately looked towards the right where I was sitting. I knew this meant that I, along with another woman, should stand up and make room for her. The bus was very crowded and therefore moving towards the back felt like a nearly impossible task in order to make space for the woman in the motorized chair.

Without realizing it at the time, I was perpetuating a system of oppression onto the woman with a disability. Disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare states that society is a disabling factor in the current social model of disability. He argues that it promotes the social oppression and exclusion of people with impairments – as opposed to a focus on the impairment itself as the problem. Looking back, I recall that I was upset that the woman with the motorized chair had turned to my side of the bus and I had had to get up. This response perpetuates a cycle of oppression because I used her disability as a source of rationalizing why she should be excluded from the bus.

Although I did not say anything verbally to the woman in the motorized chair, my face and body language gave a very descriptive picture of how angry I was that I had to move. The other women that were sitting next to me were verbal with their anger and made comments such as “she should have waited for the next bus, as there’s no space” and “why do we have to move for her?” In the moment I agreed with those women and their outbursts. I was upset, tired, and in pain because of my heels. My only thoughts were selfish thoughts about wanting to get home so that I could get comfortable.

In retrospect, our attitudes were ableist because we ostracized the woman with a disability and trying to exclude her from riding the bus as everyone else was doing. I likened these feelings to feelings of the ‘survival of the fittest’; mentality that was prevalent during Darwin’s lifetime. As a recent PBS documentary discusses, people with disabilities were viewed as ‘undesirable’ and every effort was made to treat them as outsiders in society rather than practice inclusivity.

At that time, people with disabilities were not viewed as fit to be amongst abled-bodied people. As it relates back to the bus, the signs clearly acknowledged the seats were for persons with disabilities or the elderly. However, due to our own selfish reasoning and justification, we did not feel it was enough to warrant giving a seat to the woman in the motorized chair.

It is important for people to recognize their ableist nature so when situations similar to the one discussed arise they can approach it with respect and empathy rather than disdain for the person with a disability.

This essay was written by an anonymous M.S.W. Candidate at Salem State University’s School of Social Work in Salem, Massachusetts.  The author may be reached on Twitter at @disabilitysw or via email at [email protected]  This author’s blog posts are published at

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New Study Looks at End-of-Life Decision-Making for People with Intellectual Disabilities




A new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo provides a groundbreaking look at how advance care planning medical orders inform emergency medical service (EMS) providers’ experiences involving people with intellectual disabilities.

Most states in the U.S. have programs that allow terminally ill patients to document their end-of-life decisions.  In New York, the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form (MOLST) allows individuals to document what measures health care providers, including EMS providers, should take near the end of a patient’s life.

Studies suggest that this approach to person-centered advance care planning can alleviate a dying patient’s pain and suffering, according Deborah Waldrop, a professor in the UB School of Social Work and an expert on end-of-life care. Yet little research on end-of-life decision-making has been done on the growing population of older Americans with intellectual disabilities, which the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines as a disability characterized by significant limitations in learning, reasoning, problem solving, and a collection of conceptual, social and practical skills.

Waldrop and Brian Clemency an associate professor of emergency medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, authored one of the first scholarly examinations of how pre-hospital providers assess and manage emergency calls for patients who do not wish to be resuscitated or intubated.  Jacqueline McGinley, a doctoral candidate in UB’s School of Social Work, joined their research team and served as first author for their most recent work.

Through a series of interviews with five different emergency medical service agencies in upstate New York, the researchers asked EMS providers specifically how forms like the MOLST shape what they do in the case of someone with an intellectual disability.

“The best available research before our study suggested that as of the late 1990s, fewer than 1 percent of people with intellectual disabilities had ever documented or discussed their end-of-life wishes,” says McGinley. “But with this study, we found that about 62 percent of the EMS providers we surveyed had treated someone with an intellectual or developmental disability who had these forms.”

That disparity points to the need to illuminate this understudied area of how people with intellectual disabilities are engaging in end-of-life discussions, according to McGinley.

She says the EMS providers’ charge is to follow protocol by honoring the documents, their directions and organizational procedures. The MOLST, as its name implies, is a medical order that providers are professionally bound to respect.  Their procedures are identical for all emergency calls involving someone who is imminently dying regardless of a pre-existing disability, the study’s results suggested.

But questions remained.

“We heard from providers who wrestled with the unique issues that impact this population, including organizational barriers when working across systems of care and decision-making for individuals who may lack capacity” says McGinley.

There are approximately 650,000 adults age 60 and older in the U.S. with intellectual disabilities, according to Census Bureau figures from 2000. Demographers expect that figure to double by 2030, and triple within the foreseeable future.

Person-centered advance care planning specifically involves the individual in discussions about their health history, possible changes to their current health status and what future options might be available in order to best inform that person’s end-of-life decision-making.

The results, published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, suggest that medical orders largely favor efforts to prolong life. This may be due to a reluctance to discuss advanced care planning in this population.  Still, this sociocultural context must be strongly considered as future research explores how people with intellectual disabilities engage in end-of-life discussions.

Since January 2016, Medicare pays for patients to have advance care planning conversations with medical providers. In fact, at least once a year, as part of a service plan through the state, people with intellectual disabilities have face-to-face discussions with their service providers, according to McGinley, who notes the importance of this built-in opportunity to have conversations about serious illness and the end of life.

“What’s most important in all of the work we do is knowing that people can die badly,” says Waldrop. “We know we can make changes that illuminate some of the uncertainties and improve care for people who are dying. Knowing how forms, like the MOLST, are applied in the field is an incredible step in the right direction.”

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Moving Beyond “Fixing” People: Social Work Practice with People with Disabilities




Working on a boarding high-school campus, I have the opportunity to be exposed to different students. During my first year, one student, in particular, stood out. J.M. was a breakout basketball star and had dreams of going to the N.B.A.

Unfortunately, in his junior year, he was in a terrible car accident and as a result was paralyzed from the waist down. Everyone on campus was affected by his accident because J.M. was such a bright presence on campus and when he came back, he was a different person. He was less interactive on campus and lost his love for basketball.

The adults who were working with him every day were so fixated on the medical model, they wanted to “fix” him as much as they could so he could be ‘normal’ again. They suggested to his mom to take him to the best doctors who specialize helping people who are paraplegic learn to walk through virtual reality. They were not focused on his direct needs because they did not ask him, and that was detrimental to his recovery.

In using the social-model informed practice, the adults working with J.M. should have discussed with him how he saw his recovery going. By placing the focus on him rather than his disability, J.M.’s confidence in recovering could have been more positive than negative. Indeed, disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare discusses the importance of focusing on the individual and not the impairment in order to create a confident space.

One of the limits in the social model approach, Shakespeare says, is the idea that individuals with disabilities should disregard their impairments. More specifically, the social model disavows both individual and medical approaches so much that it actually risks the suggestion that impairments are not the problem!

The medical model is helpful when we are utilizing action practices that are suggested by the person with the disability and not the people around them who are looking at it like a problem that needs to be corrected. As social workers, it will only benefit the clients we are working with if we are their advocates and find a balance between the medical model and the social model.

This essay was originally prepared for Dr. Elspeth Slayter’s social work practice with people with disabilities course at Salem State University’s School of Social Work  Graduate students were asked to reflect on the ways in which they approach their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were “under” the social model of disability.

Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the part of the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability? Provide a case example and then describe how you could/do/would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

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