Dr. Beatrice A. Wright, a founder of Division 22, will be the recipient of the 2016 American Psychological Foundation’s Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychology in the Public Interest. Dr. Wright is a distinguished scholar, teacher, and practitioner who champions the social and psychological needs of people with disabilities, working tirelessly to improve the practice and mission of rehabilitation psychology. Her contributions to the interface between rehabilitation and clinical practice are rooted in Lewin’s person-environment relation. Although her work improved services for persons with disabilities, the psychological concepts she advanced in her long career are applicable to the experiences of all people.
Wright courageously proposed that disability, whether congenital or acquired, was not a problem centered within people; rather, disability is a social and psychological construct; the problem is found within the environment. This constructive philosophy places challenges faced by people with disabilities squarely in situations they encounter, where poor design, limited accessibility, and problem terrain create physical barriers. Psychological barriers, such as exclusion from equal, sustained encounters with nondisabled people, in turn, lead to misunderstanding, prejudice, and discrimination. Wright’s scholarship, clinical work, and public speaking counteracted the intransigent social dilemmas people with disabilities routinely face.
Wright is best known for her landmark book, Physical Disability: A Psychosocial Approach (1960, 1983), which is among APA’s list of influential works in psychology. The book’s preface presents Wright’s “value-laden beliefs and principles,” which integrate the science and practice of psychology to advance the public interest.