Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

Ableism and the Social Model of Disability: What Does it Have to do With Behavior Analysts?

Dorothea Lerman (University of Houston-Clear Lake)

Invited Panel




Dorothea Lerman is currently a Professor of Behavior Analysis at the University of Houston - Clear Lake, where she chairs the master’s program in behavior analysis and serves as Director of the UHCL Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD). She received her doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Florida, specializing in behavior analysis. Her areas of expertise include autism, developmental disabilities, early intervention, functional analysis, teacher and parent training, and treatment of severe behavior disorders. She currently oversees several programs at CADD, including a focused intervention program for children with autism, a vocational program for adults with disabilities, a student support program for college students with autism, and a teacher training program for local school districts. Dr. Lerman has published more than 100 research articles and chapters, served as Editor-in-Chief for The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Analysis in Practice and has secured more than $2 million in grants and contracts to support her work. She was the recipient of the 2007 Distinguished Contribution to Applied Behavioral Research Award and the 2001 B.F. Skinner Award for New Researchers, awarded by Division 25 of the American Psychological Association. She also was named a Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis-International in 2008. Dr. Lerman is a Licensed Behavior Analyst and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.



Recipients of behavior analytic services have traditionally been viewed through a medical model lens that treats deficits. Alternatively, a social model of disability views societal barriers and systemic biases as limiting people with disabilities’ ability to thrive and meet their own needs/wants. Some disciplines have increasingly acknowledged this social conceptualization of disability and begun to adopt more equitable language and practices across research and practice. In both research and practice, behavior analysts have generally have not ascribed to a social model of disability, perhaps contributing to ongoing negative perceptions of applied behavior analysis (ABA) in some communities. This panel will begin with a brief overview of terms and concepts relevant to equity in behavior analysis and disability research. Our panel will then discuss these concepts as they relate to ethical research and practice in ABA. Namely, the panel will (1) discuss the importance of considering these concepts as diversity issues in practice, (2) identify indicators of ableism in ABA research and discourse, and (3) consider how subtle ableism may influence behavior analytic interventions. Last, the panel will discuss initial steps behavior analysts may take to challenge their own assumptions and support equity for people with disabilities in our field.


Modifed by Eddie Soh