Beatrice Wright (psychologist)
Beatrice Ann Wright (born Beatrice Ann Posner December 16, 1917 – July 31, 2018) was an American psychologist known for her work in rehabilitation counseling. She was the author of a seminal work on disability and psychology, Physical Disability—A Psychological Approach (1960) and its second edition retitled Physical Disability—A Psychosocial Approach (1983).
Wright was born as Beatrice Ann Posner along with her twin brother Sidney in Richmond, New York on December 16, 1917. Wright’s parents, Jerome and Sonia Posner, were Russian immigrants whose egalitarian and humanistic views would later impact her academic work. The family had a Jewish heritage which Wright reports did not profoundly impact her worldview or growing up years, however, her parents’ avid defense of equality and justice was likely impacted by this heritage. From her parents’ perspective there were two ways to resolve the tension which comes when injustice is present, “One way is to justify the situation. The other way is to do something about the injustice”. This would impact Wright who while in high school was expelled from the honors society for distributing leaflets in support of the janitors’ strike, though she would eventually be reinstated at her mother’s demand. She died in July 2018 at the age of 100.
After graduating high school at the age of sixteen, Wright went to Brooklyn College where she studied psychology. At Brooklyn College Wright had the opportunity to learn from psychologists such as Solomon Asch and Abraham Maslow, even participating in their experiments. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 1938 and continued her education at the University of Iowa where she would eventually earn both her masters and PhD. At the University of Iowa she studied under the supervision of Kurt Lewin.
After earning her PhD she taught at Swarthmore College. During World War II her husband was drafted which led to the family’s relocation to California. Wright left her teaching position to be with him and began working in the United States Employment Service. She was given the task of administering the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales and then finding employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It was here she would have her first genuine, direct exposure to people with disabilities; this experience would be what launched her into a lifetime of interest in and advocacy for people with disabilities. She worked at the United States Employment Service until 1946 when she left the workplace in order to raise her three children.
While being a stay-at-home mother, Wright was contacted by Roger Barker, another former student of Kurt Lewin, to collaborate on a book regarding physical disability on which she agreed to collaborate. She reported that her review of the literature was what would fuel her passion for developing appropriate and culturally responsive ways of working with people with disabilities as the methodology at the time was biased against people with disabilities. This work with Barker would also lead to her husband Erik gaining a teaching position at the University of Kansas, and while he worked at the university she began to work with children who were deaf and their families which again would further her personal and academic interest in people with disabilities. The work with Barker, Adjustment to Physical Handicap and Illness: A Survey of the Social Psychology of Physique and Disability, was a landmark publication both in the field of psychology and in Wright’s career. She proceeded to collaborate with many other now notable psychologists such as Tamara Dembo and Gloria Ladieu Leviton on topics related to disability.
The Wright family moved to Australia in 1959 when Wright’s husband, Erik, received a fellowship from the Fulbright Program. Wright utilized her time in Australia to complete her seminal work on disability and psychology, Physical Disability—A Psychological Approach, which would be published in 1960. This work is considered the introduction of disability as a social issue in the field of psychology and its impact continues even today as it has been canonized by the APA as an outstanding twentieth century publication in psychology. This is one way in which Lewin’s influence is prominent as she drew heavily from his view of social psychology that all differences in physical appearance provoked the attention by observers. In 1983 she republished an extensively revised version of the book and retitled it as Physical Disability—A Psychosocial Approach to reflect the importance of the interactions with the environment. This work has also been canonized as an outstanding publication by the APA.
Wright has received awards for her work including the “Distinguished Alumna Award” from the University of Iowa as well as the “Irvin Youngberg Award for Achievement in Applied Science” in 1984, and the “Kurt Lewin Award” from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
Wright’s most prominent work “Physical Disability – A Psychosocial Approach Second Edition” is wide in scope as it addresses many components of acceptance of physical disability on personal and societal levels. Wright contrasts coping and succumbing as the two frameworks from which one approaches disability. She also presents a stage model of psychosocial adjustment to disability, by presenting the four major changes. The four changes are enlargement of scope, subordination of the physique, containment of disability effects, and transformation from comparative to asset values. Enlargement of scope includes the individual recognizing values separate from the disability, the individual will begin to acknowledge areas of skill that are not affected by the disability and while the four changes are not necessarily a phase model, this is typically the first change to occur. A second change Wright dubs the “subordination of the physique”. In this phase the individual begins to limit the importance of physical appearance as a source of identity; often the person will increase the emphasis on personality or personal traits which are not connected to the disability. The third component is containment of disability effects, which is when the individual views the disability as affecting only the parts of them which it actually affects instead of generalizing any limitations to other areas of the individual. Finally, there is a transformation from comparative to asset values in which the individual ceases using others as a comparison for success of value and focuses more on one’s on intrinsic values.
- Wurl, S. L. (2008). Beatrice a. wright: A life history. (Doctoral dissertation)Retrieved from etd.utk.edu/2008/WurlSheryl.pdf
- "Beatrice Wright Obituary". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
- George, M. (2011). Profile of Beatrice Ann Wright. In A. Rutherford (Ed.), Psychology’s Feminist Voices Multimedia Internet Archive. Retrieved from http://www.feministvoices.com/beatrice-a-wright/
- Beatrice Ann Wright obituary
- Dunn, D. S., & Elliot, T. R. (2005). Revisiting a constructive classic: Wright's physical disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 50(2), 183-189. doi: 10.1037/0090-5522.214.171.124/
- Wright, B. A. (1983). Physical disability: A psychosocial approach. (2nd ed.). New York, NY:Harper & Row Publishers./