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A new perspective on disability

ASU psychology alum's new book brings awareness to the challenges facing people with disabilities

Portrait of ASU alum and social psychologist Arielle Silverman

Social psychologist and ASU Department of Psychology alumna Arielle Silverman.

February 03, 2022

Social psychologist and Arizona State University Department of Psychology alumna Arielle Silverman aims to bring awareness to the challenges facing people with disabilities and ultimately change the way people treat others.

Silverman is an activist and social scientist who is blind. She uses her own experience to advocate for others and to bring awareness to many misunderstandings surrounding disabilities in society.

According to the CDC, over 12 million people in the United States currently have some form of visual impairment, with over 1 million who are blind.

As a college student, Silverman found that she was often singled out by people who would treat normal achievements differently than her peers, such as passing a class or receiving a good grade on a test. People would grab her when she was walking to a familiar class, thinking that they were being helpful, when it was just disorienting and unwanted. Her achievements were always framed based on her disability, and she wanted to know why.

Silverman’s new book "Just Human: The Quest for Disability Wisdom, Respect, and Inclusion," includes personal anecdotes of the hardships she’s overcome and things she wishes she could tell a younger version of herself.

“Growing up, I believed that everybody else perceived the world the same way that I did — and of course, not seeing anything wrong with the way that I perceive things. But after learning about the world in my own ways, I eventually realized that not only did they not perceive the world the same way I did, but they thought the way I perceived the world was deficient,” Silverman said.

In addition to being a memoir of sorts, the book shares research from social psychologists and disability scholars about not only how to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, but how to be more inclusive of everyone.

“Social psychology struck me as a way to systematically and scientifically answer questions about why people think and act in certain ways, and I had a lot of questions about blind people. We're not fully included in society, and I wanted to know why there are so many barriers and why people made assumptions about our capabilities that weren't always accurate,” Silverman said. “And so I figured that social psychology would be the way to figure out how to answer those questions, and then based on the research findings, figure out how to develop interventions at multiple levels to try to fix some of those problems.”

Silverman volunteered her time to speak with the ASU Department of Psychology about her experience as a research consultant and how she used her degree in psychology to create a career that is both rewarding and impactful.

“I call myself a disability research and training consultant. I provide research services to different disability-oriented nonprofit organizations and academic research groups,” Silverman said.

Her consulting company, Disability Wisdom, provides researched-based services, such as trainings, cultural competency training, evaluation and knowledge translation.

“The traditional path with a doctorate in social psychology would be to try to work at a college or university teaching, doing research or writing, but there's also a lot of jobs in industry and private industry or in public service where having a social psychology degree could be helpful,” she said.

“For example, I know people who have worked in business or in different research-oriented nonprofits that provide research consulting services or program evaluation services. A social psychology degree gives you the quantitative research skills to be able to do program evaluation in a wide range of fields.”

In addition to her consulting work and being an author, Silverman also works as a research specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind. There, she collaborates with other researchers, conducting studies, writing papers and designing research instruments like surveys or interviews and focus group questions.

“The big thing I would tell myself is that you might go through periods of feeling left out, excluded and mistreated, or wondering who you are and where you belong — but there's hope," Silverman said. "Things will work themselves out, and it is important to be positive.”

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