Dr. Stephen Glicksman and Students Co-Author Article Suggesting Dialectic Approach to Policymaking
When it comes to creating policies to help individuals with intellectual disabilities, which is the best approach: to advocate that they receive exactly the same rights and privileges as any other person would be entitled to, or to make sure that their unique needs are being met?
This is the challenge taken up by Dr. Stephen Glicksman, adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College and the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, and the students in his Intellectual Disabilities course, in a scholarly article they recently co-authored together. Titled “Rights-Based and Person-Centered Approaches to Supporting People With Intellectual Disability: A Dialectical Model,” the article, appearing in the June 2017 edition of Intellectual and Development Disabilities, explores the conflict between the two viewpoints described above—“rights-based,” which focuses on the securing of equal rights for people with intellectual disabilities, and “person-centered,” which focuses on assessing and meeting their individual needs—as it plays out in statewide policymaking.
“What we see in the field right now is there’s a rights-based bias in the current regulations, and the difficulty is that when you’re coming from that perspective you tend to overlook a lot of the unique needs, challenges and aspirations each individual might have,” said Glicksman.
As a developmental psychologist and director of clinical innovation at Makor Disability Services (formerly Women’s League Community Residences), it’s a problem he encounters frequently. For instance, a regulation insisting that every resident of a group home possess their own key may be irrelevant to a nonambulatory, nonverbal individual with profound intellectual disability, and any time spent focused on fulfilling that requirement is less time that can be spent figuring out how to meet his or her needs in a more meaningful way.
“I was teaching this course on Intellectual Disabilities at Yeshiva College, and this tension was something we were experiencing and that was really frustrating at the agency where I work,” he said. In the course, students are introduced to the field of intellectual disabilities, its history and details about the treatment, diagnoses and philosophy behind some of the approaches practitioners use. “I decided to take that as an opportunity to involve the students in a research proposal which we hoped could have an impact on the field,” Glicksman said.
During each class, Glicksman and his students took time to discuss the different approaches and how they might help—or harm—the people they were intended to support. Each student analyzed 20 pages of the New York State regulation guidelines in close detail and shared with the class the conflicts they discovered. Over the course of the semester, the class began to develop an argument: while rights-based and person-centered approaches to intellectual disabilities were both valid and extremely important to consider when creating policies, they work best as a dialectic, one informing the other, rather than having policymakers focus heavily on one perspective at the risk of ignoring the other.
“This is a truth to power article,” said Glicksman. “We’re saying that the current regulations in place might not be adequate in the way they were intended to help people with intellectual disabilities lead meaningful lives. The truth is somewhere in the middle: there are times when individual rights have to be emphasized, and times when person-centeredness has to be emphasized, and regulations need to be able to accommodate that flexibility.”
For students in Glicksman’s course, co-writing the article was not only an impressive opportunity to publish work in a scholarly journal as undergraduates, but a valuable learning experience about how an idea in the field is evaluated and discussed, from conception to publication. “This certainly represents one of my most meaningful experiences and accomplishments during my time in YU,” said Chaim Goldberg, a senior majoring in psychology and minoring in law. “It’s partly the reason that I was motivated to pursue research in a serious way for my thesis.”