Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 04/08/15

ABOVE: Dana Dunn, professor of psychology and assistant dean for special projects, authored a new book The Social Psychology of Disability (2015, Oxford University Press)


Dana Dunn’s Newest Book Delivers Ups Educational and Professional Awareness of Psychosocial Disability Identity

They say you should never meet your hero. But what do they say about revising her book?

When Dana S. Dunn, professor of psychology and assistant dean for special projects, was approached to revise Beatrice Wright’s book, Physical Disability, A Psychosocial Approach, it evoked a similar feeling. “It spoke to me like no other book ever had, because it was a combination of theory with application that really helps people,” he said.

That moment was in the 1980s, not long after conducting a mail-in survey at an amputee golf clinic in an effort to do applied work in his field. But that moment also sparked a real interest in rehabilitation psychology, which would envelop most of Dunn’s future career as a published researcher, writer, and professor.

Rehabilitation psychology is one of the many specializations in the growing psychology field. It deals with persons of physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, as well as those with chronic health problems.

“Disabled people are said to be the invisible minority,” said Dunn. “When students study diversity they study race, religion, ethnicity, gender and, most recently, sexuality. Disability, not so much.” And as the baby boomers continue to age, more and more people are entering the realm of rehabilitation psychology.

“It’s sort of a cliché but it’s also a truism—if we live long enough we are likely to become disabled in some way,” he says. “It’s not the same type of disability I talk about in the book but it’s the form of a chronic health problem that changes your identify in some way. That fact means we are professionals should do everything we can to make such inevitable changes as positive as possible. That’s part of the goal here.”

And by “the book,” he doesn’t mean the revised version of Dr. Wright’s classic. It hadn’t been revised since the 1983, but when he went to meet with the now elderly author, she wasn’t pleased with the publisher’s plans to, as they say, streamline her work.

“She decided to pull the project,” he said. “In a way I was sad, because it would have been great to update a classic. But then on the other hand, I’m not sure other people should update other people’s classic works. And the book was written in her voice and it was based on her work of probably 50 years.”

When students study diversity, they study race, religion, ethnicity, gender and, most recently, sexuality. Disability, not so much.”

– Dana Dunn, author of The Social Psychology of Disability

Wright ended things with one final thought: Dunn should write his own book. But that idea sat on the backburner until the Academy of Rehabilitation Psychology contacted Dunn nearly three years ago. “I couldn’t revise the Wright book so I crafted my own book, and I call upon a lot of her ideas because they are important to the discipline.”

And that is how The Social Psychology of Disability was born. It is the first book to systematically review, update, organize, and critique the literature on the social psychology of disability in 30 years. The book's overarching message is an important one: The experience of most people with disabilities is not what nondisabled persons anticipate—contrary to what the latter may think, the former can lead full and normal lives. He has produced a blog post on the topic, and presented at several conferences and meetings. A special issue of the journal Rehabilitation Psychology is also in the works.

“New generations of people who are learning to be rehabilitation psychologists, to work with physical emotional or mental disabilities, aren’t getting this core set of principles that really speak to the dignity of people with disabilities and how they should be treated,” he said. Until now, that is.

But he didn’t do it alone. Dunn collaborated with Moravian College students to help with research and writing. Brittany Beard ’12, Stacey Boyer ’10, Clint Brody ’09, Shane Burcaw ’14, Sarah Dougherty ’04, Susan Dutko ’94, David Fisher ’10, Loraine Gyauch ’89, Alissa Lastres ’12, Brett Stoudt ’98, and Carolyn Vicchiullo ’96 all collaborated with Dunn at some point in their college career on a study, project, paper, or presentation that ended up in the pages of The Social Psychology of Disability.

“They were all instrumental in helping me write about these things and think through them,” said Dunn, especially of Burcaw. He had Burcaw as a student before his Laughing At My Nightmare fame. “I knew he wrote beautifully, and since I did a lot of my heavy lifting over the summer, I encouraged Shane to work with me on a SOAR project about disability identity.”

He did, and their partnership continued the following summer. Burcaw read every chapter The Social Psychology of Disability,  sharing examples of his own experience that continue to live in the pages today.

As his new book gains traction, Dunn is already onto the next project—a 67-chapter handbook of undergraduate psychology education that fulfills his other interest: pedagogy. “I’m a believer in the argument that writing is a muscle, and the more you exercise it the better you are.”

The Social Psychology of Disability is published by Oxford University Press. Click here to read the full abstract.

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