foundations from the Foundation:
Kerr, N. & Bodman, D.A. (1994). Disability Research Methods: An Argument for the Use of Galilean Modes of Thought in Disability Research. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 9(5), 99-122.
Nancy Kerr, PhD (1933-2001) was an eminent Rehabilitation Psychologist. She studied at the University of Illinois and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1958 going on to earn a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Houston. It was here she met and worked with Lee Meyerson establishing their lifelong collaboration. Dr. Kerr became a tenured professor at Arizona State University where she spent more than thirty years teaching, carrying out research and mentoring her students. She enjoyed a distinguished career as a fellow of the American Psychological Association, past president of the Division of Rehabilitation Psychology, former editor of the journal of Rehabilitation Psychology, and member of the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners. Her reputation for overcoming adversity, advocating and caring for others and breaking down professional barriers is both well-deserved and well-known as she tirelessly worked toward uniting areas of specialization in psychology and advancing the influence of Rehabilitation Psychology.
In the attached article, "Disability Research Methods: An Argument for the Use of Galilean Modes of Thought in Disability Research", Drs. Kerr and Bodman make a strong argument for Rehabilitation Psychologists to change course and pursue research designs that explore person-environment factors yielding solutions to real problems. They argue the popular mainstream “Aristotelian” approach to research overly emphasizes the description and analysis of “average” behavior of people with disabilities. The article effectively notes this approach is unnecessarily limited since it rests on a number faulty assumptions including the idea people with disabilities as a group are homogenous, thus ignoring critical factors such as the characteristics of the individual’s unique interactions with their environment. Kerr identifies the need for designs that explicitly distinguish the possible conditions for change and more accurately address the individual’s behaviors rather than focus on “typical” acts.
This seminal paper describes the Aristotelian versus the Galileian distinction and argues for the use of Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory (1935) as a more appropriate framework from which to view research methodology in best understanding people with disabilities. Kerr posits this is because some people adjust to living with disability in more adaptive ways than others. She outlines the importance of exploring the “tails of statistical distribution” by creating research designs that account for and examine individuals who successfully adapt to disability but whose experience would be lost in a review of statistical averages. Kerr concludes that when research accommodates individual differences and person-environment interaction, novel solutions may be identified, and knowledge gained about which person-environment interactions are most conducive to adjustment to disability in a way the prevailing Aristotelian approach ignores.
This paper was chosen in part to revisit some of the arguments in favor of a Lewinian / Galileian approach to research involving people with disabilities. In short, Dr. Kerr’s perspectives on balanced and solution-focused research designs and unwavering commitment to working to better the lives of people with disabilities can assist all generations of Rehabilitation Psychologists in appreciating the importance of person-environment interactions and individual abilities.