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?

Stephanie Peterson (Western Michigan University)

Invited Panel




Stephanie M. Peterson, Ph.D. is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Michigan University. She earned her doctorate in Special Education at The University of Iowa in 1994. She is also Professor of Psychology and the previous chair of the Department of Psychology. Previously, she taught at Gonzaga University, Utah State University, The Ohio State University, and Idaho State University. Her primary research interests are helping to decrease chronic severe behavior problems in children with developmental disabilities. Specifically, she studies choice making in the treatment of problem behavior, functional communication training, reinforcement-based interventions for children with problem behavior, concurrent schedules of reinforcement in the treatment of severe problem behavior, functional analysis of problem behavior, and teleconsultation. She also has interests in applications of behavior analysis to educational interventions and teacher/behavior analyst training. She has served on a variety of editorial boards, including the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Analysis in Practice and is currently the editor of Behavior Analysis in Practice. She also served as a Senior Editor for Education and Treatment of Children for many years. She served two 3-year terms on the Board of Directors for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and was appointed by the Governor of Michigan to the Michigan Board of Behavior Analysts, Michigan’s licensing board for behavior analysts. She served as the President of the Board for two years.



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