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Psicologia USP

Print version ISSN 0103-6564On-line version ISSN 1678-5177

Psicol. USP vol.29 no.3 São Paulo Sept./Dec. 2018 


The construction of a scale on the conceptions of disability: methodological procedures1

Lúcia Pereira Leitea  * 

Cristina Broglia Feitosa de Lacerdab 

aUniversidade Estadual Paulista, Departamento de Psicologia (UNESP). Bauru, SP, Brasil

bUniversidade Federal de São Carlos, Departamento de Psicologia (UFSCar). São Carlos, SP, Brasil


This article is based on the precepts of historical-cultural psychology to analyze how disability is conceptualized and its implications. The study describes the development of a methodological procedure to identify conceptions of disability. After a review of national and international bibliography, four concepts were circumscribed: organic, psychosocial, historical-cultural and metaphysical. For each concept five assertions were defined and arranged at five ordinal points. The scale was evaluated by judges with theoretical-methodological familiarity on disabilities. It was calculated the index of agreement between original classification of utterances with marks, and the return and review of opposing classifications. Initial applications and resulting treatments allowed the conceiving of the Conceptions of Disability Scale (CDS).

Keywords: disability; social inclusion; scale; concept; psychology.Contextualizing the concept of disability


Este artigo parte dos preceitos da psicologia histórico-cultural para analisar como a deficiência é conceituada e suas implicações. Procura descrever a elaboração de um procedimento metodológico para averiguar concepções de deficiência. Feita a revisão da literatura nacional e internacional, foram circunscritas quatro concepções: orgânica, psicossocial, histórico-cultural e metafísica. Para cada uma delas foram definidas cinco asserções, dispostas em cinco pontos ordinais. A escala foi avaliada por juízes com familiaridade teórico-metodológica na temática deficiência. Foi calculado o índice de concordância entre as classificações originais dos enunciados com as marcações e retorno e revisão das classificações discordantes. Aplicações iniciais e os tratamentos decorrentes permitiram a confecção da Escala de Concepções de Deficiência (ECD).

Palavras-chave: deficiência; inclusão social; escala; concepção; psicologia


Cet article est basé sur les préceptes de la psychologie historico-culturelle pour analyser comment le handicap est conceptualisé et ses implications. L'étude décrit l'élaboration d'une procédure méthodologique pour examiner les conceptions du hándicap. Après l'examen de la documentation nationale et internationale, quatre concepts ont été circonscrites: organique, psychosocial, historique-culturel et métaphysique. Pour chaque concept, cinq assertions ont été définis et organisées en cinq points ordinaux. L'échelle a été évaluée par des juges ayant une connaissance théorique et méthodologique des handicaps. L'index de la concordance a été calculé entre les classifications originelles des énoncés avec des marques, et le retour et la révision des classifications dissonants. Les applications initiales et les traitements résultant ont permis de concevoir l'échelle de conceptions de déficience (ECD).

Mots-clés : déficience; inclusion sociale; conception; échelle; psychologie


Ese artículo parte de los preceptos de la Psicología histórico-cultural para analizar cómo la discapacidad es conceptuada y sus implicaciones. Se busca describir la elaboración de un procedimiento metodológico para averiguar concepciones de discapacidad. En el artículo se efectúa un análisis crítico sobre la relación de la sociedad con la persona con discapacidad, y su objetivo es describir la elaboración de un procedimiento metodológico para detectar las concepciones sobre la discapacidad. Una vez realizado el estudio de la literatura nacional y extranjera, se delimitaron cuatro concepciones: orgánica, psicosocial, histórico-cultural y metafísica. Para cada concepción se definieron cinco categorías organizadas en cinco clases ordinales. La escala fue evaluada por jueces que tienen pensamiento teórico-metodológica cercano al tema de la discapacidad. Se calculó el índice de concordancia entre las clasificaciones originales de los enunciados con las señales y la devolución obtenida, así como la revisión de las clasificaciones discordantes. Las aplicaciones preliminares y las indicaciones resultantes posibilitaron la elaboración de la Escala de Concepciones sobre la Discapacidad (ECD).

Palabras clave: discapacidad; inclusión social; escala; concepción; psicología

Vigotski (1997, 2004) argues that human development occurs first in the social (interpsychological) field, and then in the individual (intrapsychological) field through the intermediation of the individual’s social interactions in their context. This movement is based on the conception of interactive man, attributed by Góes (1991) when reading the author’s works. Interactivity is circumscribed by active and passive participation of the man in the face of the socio-cultural environment, and demarcated by the historical moment. In general terms, human development is marked by the appropriation of the knowledge produced in the course of history made by the subject. However, such an appropriation, according to Leontiev (2005), begins in human birth - in which an organic structure is laid down that will be developed throughout its existence - and can be understood as an ongoing process in which the varied characteristics typical of human species are transmitted and shared by others. As a result, man develops abilities which, in turn, allow to learn the knowledge around him. As an example, the author cites language, a higher psychological function, which results from the insertion in the universe of knowledge predating the child’s birth, since it presents itself in a certain society that uses a specific communicative standard. Thus, in the course of its development, it is through successive social participation that one learns to decipher linguistic codes and to use them efficiently, defining their listening and speaking. When grounding their studies on Vigotsky’s texts, Araújo and Lacerda (2010, p. 699) synthesize the mediating function of language in interpsychological and intrapsychic processes, emphasizing the relationship between thought and language as primordial for the understanding of the nature of man’s consciousness. In this sense, the use of signs in language,

when orienting itself to the subject, regulates actions and structures the symbolic field, constituting itself in the explanatory principle of conscious activity, the basis of a higher order psychic functioning. In addition, language enables the subject to mediate in social processes, so that the higher psychological development of the subject depends and is constituted by it. Language, being understood as an essential symbolic system, represents... a qualitative leap in the development of the human being, and the word, a sign par excellence, assumes a central role in the development of thought and in the historical evolution of consciousness as a whole.

Such considerations demarcate the subject as a social being, since, recalling Leontiev (1978, 267), “every human individual learns to be a man. What nature gives you is not enough to live in a society. It is still necessary to acquire what has been achieved in the course of the historical development of human society”. In this case, each new being will only become human through the possibility of appropriation of the patrimony objectified and accumulated by humanity throughout history. Human are constituted by their progressive participation in the complex network of social relations in which they are involved since birth, and these cultural delineations occur throughout their lives (Pino, 2005).

Vigotski (1934/1997) brings, in the fifth volume of the collection Obras Escogidas: Fundamentos da Defectologia, where the typology of disability is approached in the light of two perspectives, one primary and one secondary. The first, for the author, is anchored in an organicist conception and encompasses a series of compromises in the organism arising from differentiated genetic patterns, neural lesions, hereditary malformations, anomalous formation, a series of occurrences that lead to a differentiated functioning of the physical organism. The second is due to the damages caused by the difficulty of establishing social interactions and, consequently, the inadequacy of appropriating knowledge necessary for full human development. This conception is subsidized by the premise of the close relationship between social and biological, in that the latter develops itself according to the other, that is, the biological is historically constructed (Garcia, 1999). With the adoption of this stance, it is not a matter of denying the existence of organic changes due to deficiencies, but of understanding it as a social phenomenon, since they are historically and culturally signified and, for this reason, they cease to be exclusively a natural fact.

Freitas (2004, p. 114), when analyzing the precepts of the Vigotskian theory in the works of the National Association of Postgraduation and Research in Education (Anped) in the period of 1998-2003, reports that the author presented in this study

a position of the avant-garde, advanced for his time, with regard to disabled people, who he considered not as disabled but different, showing that this difference is not so much physical or biological, but especially social, in the order of insufficient interaction with the other, with culture.

The position of the author focused more on emphasizing the intervention possibilities towards individual development than on the difficulties presented.

Returning to Vigotsky’s (1997) precepts, the struggle of defectology at the time of his writings consisted mainly in demonstrating to the scientific community that the child with disabilities presents differentiated conditions of development, but this does not mean that the child is less developed than their peers of different condition.

Studies that sought to understand the phenomenon of disability

When speaking of the concept of disability, it is necessary to relate it to the cultural context and the historical period of its occurrence, considering that, in the Brazilian reality, the propagation of actions on the part of the State that claim to be inclusive are now perceivable, aimed at people with disabilities. However, in parallel, when adopting an economic model that favors productivity and perfection, in general terms, the idea of disability distances itself from the condition of equal participation of this population segment within society in general. Understanding that the concept of society is complex and multi-determined, this text takes some considerations made by Martins (2013) in the light of reflections on the text On society, by Anthony Elliott and Bryan Turner in 2012, who bring to the debate the identification of society as negative, “since in their analyses it tends to inculcate false beliefs, mythologies, and ideologies into individuals” (229). It is in this context that the concept of disability is (re)produced, since “within this analytical apprehension, society has come to be identified as a space in which relations of political and economic forces and multiple forms of human domination and exploitation occur” (Martins, 2013, p. 229).

Oliveira (2004), after extensively consulting the literature, synthesizes that conceptions of disability can be distributed under three approaches. The first, named Individual Conception, expresses that

disability is interpreted as an attribute inherent to the individual. It may take as reference the deviation from a standard, an average of normality or presence of some fault or limit that leads to general malfunction or in some specific characteristics. An individual-centered disability. (Oliveira, 2004, p. 64)

In this approach, the causes of disability seem to converge into organic aspects, i.e. it is not possible to separate the disability from the subject who presents it. It is possible to infer that the person is disabled and does not present a disability. By adopting this conception, little influence can be perceived on the socio-cultural context in which it occurs, since social participation ends up, to a large extent, being directed by individual conditions, regardless of the surrounding context. Moreover, such conception is supported by the idea of distancing from a normal group due to the presence of organic limitations. This assertion ends up reproducing a representation of incapacity on the part of the person with disability before the other who lacks this condition.

According to Amaral (1992, 1998), who studies disability under a socio-cultural approach, individuals who adhere to an individual conception of disability define difference within a normality bias, in an attempt to homogenize a given set with similar characteristics, distancing themselves from those not equal. Therefore, they form another set, but outside the norm, since they do not present equivalents to a predetermined model. For example, it situates the pattern of a socially valued man that corresponds to the “young, male, white, Christian, heterosexual, physically and mentally perfect, beautiful and productive” within normality (Amaral, 1998, p.14). Therefore, those who, due to different conditions, distance themselves from culturally valued and shared physical, behavioral and/or emotional patterns, are marked as different, since they deviate from a so-called normality and are therefore considered abnormal and deviant. In doing so, society incurs into the serious risk of exempting one’s own responsibility, contributing to the worsening of the disability, since the individual is to blame for their condition (Figueiró, 2007).

The second approach mentioned by Oliveira (2004) is the psychosocial conception, in which

the disability is interpreted as resulting from social, emotional or educational factors, which may be harming or causing difficulties to the individual. The causative factors are not simply organic, but the focus of interpretation falls upon the individual. (p. 64)

In this conception, we perceive a redirection in the focus of attention to the causes of disability, amplifying the analysis for factors external to the organism. However, the disability is present in the body that has it, organism of which is perceived as disabled compared to others. Such a conception is supported by the idea that there is a relationship between man and environment, and that human development occurs through this interaction. However, when dealing with disability, it is understood that diversity is only present in certain segments of the population, in the case of people with disabilities, keeping in line with the previous conception of deviation. What changes is only causal attributions.

According to Aranha (2001), actions based on this conception support the paradigm of services, understood as a set of external actions directed at the habilitation and/or rehabilitation of people with disabilities, in order to be able to qualify them within an imposed normality. Such a paradigm emerged in Brazil in the mid 1970’s and subsidizes institutions, governmental or not, for the care of the disabled. Examples of this proposal can be verified in the practice of workshops or special classes, where a set of specific actions was offered by qualified professionals. Under a superficial reasoning, it seems that this model is interesting and converges to the ideals of human development supported by a sociocultural approach. However, the caveat is given by the fundamentals of the integrationist proposal, which makes use of the paradigm of services, since it shares the assumption of a large population segment that is normal and equal, living within the same context with abnormal minority segments that, in turn, require health, care and educational services to ensure the development of skills are close to the imposed normality. However, such a paradigm is widely questioned because it harms the principle of human inequality, which emphasizes diversity as inherent to the nature of man (Leontiev, 1978).

Finally, there is the model of interactionist conception that, according to Oliveira (2004), presents an advancement originated from scientific debate and changes in the social sphere that are based on representations of disability in society,

disability is interpreted based on the complex interaction between the individual and the audience. Disability, from this point of view, is not in the person, is not directly related to the attribute, but depends on the interpretation of an audience. Thus, it is neither universal nor definitive and, in order to understand it, it is necessary to include the role of the audience. (p. 64)

The adoption of such a model displaces the quality attributed to the disabled person, since it adds the understanding of the audience in the face of subjects that are in this condition. In the understanding of Omote (1996), disability starts being seen as a socially constructed phenomenon, and therefore,

the definition of disability loses its official and universal character. It becomes contingent. People begin to understand that someone is disabled only in a temporal, spatial, and socially determined context. They begin to understand that it is necessary to specify the criteria according to which they are disabled. (p. 130)

In practical terms, the disability extrapolates its organic limitations and is valued by those who judge it. In another text, Omote (2004) reports that the interactionist conception is constituted in the light of three characters, namely: the actor, the judge or the audience, and the circumstances in which they occur. The first refers to the one who presents it, the second to the one who judges it and attributes valuation (which varies from highly negative to positive). For the author, “it is the reaction of this audience that will ultimately determine whether an individual will be identified and treated as disabled or not” (Omote 1996, p. 130). And these circumstances refer to the social, cultural, political and economic conditions in which the phenomenon occurs.

Thus, in an evaluation system, the author of the action is taken into account by the audience, when manifesting before the fact. In illustrative terms: is it that a prominent public personality, even if it presents an organic damage, is seen as disabled? Probably not, as they were able to overcome the idea of incapacity for most of these people. With this, the audience expresses itself favorably, accepting it. The criterion of judgment, in this example, falls on other factors, that is, the remarkable performance. Even with changes in the way of conceiving the disability, it is identified that it is dangerous to associate them with a situation of disadvantage, given the adoption of a productivist model, in which the parameters adopted to judge individuals perpass the maintenance needs of this model which establishes the individual’s capacity as the basic criterion.

Additional to the understanding of these positions is the concept of stigma. A phenomenon widely studied by Goffman (1998/1963), it can be understood as a social mark attributed to people due to some individuals presenting differentiated characteristics, being seen as deviant from accepted and positively valued norms. They are seen in a social context as being under a condition of inferiority and linked to a deeply depreciative meaning as they have not reached full human development. For the author, the stigma extrapolates the organism that presents the condition of deviant, and reaches the people of close conviviality, like relatives and friends. This extension of the quality of deviant is called a stigma of courtesy, in which the same sense of inferiority occurs, but in a more tenuous way. Regarding friends of people with disabilities that are not in this condition, it is very likely that the context also confers a negative status and even promotes actions of social approximation strongly marked by matters of benevolence.

However, even with the conceptions given, it is believed that the metaphysical conception is still recurrent in the attribution to the causes of disability. This idea was discussed by Pessotti (1984, pp. 5-6), in the paper Deficiência Mental: da superstição a ciência, in which the fact of understanding disability as a metaphysical phenomenon is justified because it transcends human responsibility. This thought begins in the medieval period, in which the person with a disability was regarded as a demonic soul, or “expiator of others’ offenses, or as a scapegoat receptor of divine wrath, instead of the village, attracting heavenly vengeance, like a lightning rod” (Pessotti, 1984, pp. 5-6). Aranha (2003) points out that such a characterization “as a metaphysical and spiritual phenomenon, disability was attributed both to divine designs and to possession by the devil” (pp. 10-11). The text also reports that, for various reasons, “the main attitude of society towards the disabled person was intolerance and punishment, represented by actions of confinement and severe retribution” (Aranha, 2003, pp. 10-11). It seemed prudent to rescue this conception, since, even though centuries have passed, many people still attribute disabilities to divine causes, whether through congenital causes - malformations, syndromes, etc. - or by acquired conditions, such as accidents at work or motor vehicles, for example.

In the Brazilian context, only in the last three decades has there been a concern to understand and recognize the rights of persons with disabilities as any other citizen, setting specific norms. It is therefore not surprising that society still holds feelings of charity and philanthropy to these people, not believing in their productive potential. However, misinformation about disabilities, and inadequate architectural, transportation and communication conditions persist. To the detriment of this, capable and productive people end up distant from social life (Bahia, 2006). In addition, Diniz (2007) mentions that the conception of society about people with disabilities influences social relations and guides the actions planned and practiced in relation to them. Moreover, depreciative categorization and stigmatization of the subject have a negative physical and psychological effect. For Gesser, Nuernberg and Toneli (2012), social psychology should consider disability as a category of analysis in scientific studies as a psychosocial praxis. Such an indication would be necessary to overcome the research focused on the biological nature of the disability, aiming to understanding the phenomenon as a social product - which requires specific actions to guarantee human rights.

Considering that the concepts are not neutral and are related to the socio-economic and political options of a given context to define them, it is understood that the phenomenon of disability is a social issue, which in turn is characterized by its “ ability to maintain the cohesion of a society. The threat of rupture is presented by groups whose existence undermines the cohesion of the whole set” (Castel, 1998, p. 41). The assumption is based on the long-term identification of a deep correlation between the place occupied by the individual in the social division of labor and their participation in networks of sociability and protection systems. The metamorphoses to which the social issue is subjected are the fruit of historical transformations, whereas history is not linear, that is, the conceptualization of disability is changeable and is tied to the contextual flow. From this, different visions of disability coexist, and these visions affect social relations and the ways in which people with disabilities are signified and welcomed. It is therefore of interest to analyze how social groups conceptualize disability and the people classified in this condition. Given this, the objective here is to describe the elaboration of a methodological procedure to investigate conceptions of disability in large-scale populations.

Methodological approach

In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to use tools that allow the reach of opinions of a large number of people in an economic way. Thus, it is understood that the choice to design a scale is adequate, since it presents a set of statements (each carrying different concepts regarding the person with disabilities) that demand stances from the respondents, thus revealing their conceptions regarding the subject. The results obtained with the application of this scale can be useful to investigate the concept with different publics, and they can guide educational and formative actions with a view towards more autonomous social participation of this population segment in order to more actively interfere from a social context.

Thus, due to previous research, we considered elaborating a set of statements, in the light of theoretical-conceptual and normative-regulatory indicators, that demonstrate the ways of portraying disability (Lopes & Leite, 2015; Mazo & Leite, 2012; Violante & Leite, 2011).

For the refinement of the scale, the concepts of disability of several authors, such as Amaral (1992, 1998), Aranha (2001, 2003), Camargo and Torezan (2004), Carvalho-Freitas and Marques (2010), Diniz (2007), Garcia (1999), Januzzi (2004), Mendes (1995), Oliveira (2002, 2004), Omote (1994, 1996), Pessotti (1984), many of which were based on international literature (Goffman 1998/1963; Leontiev, 1978; Llewellyn & Hogan, 2000; Telford & Sawrey, 1988; Vash, 1988; Vigotski, 1997), where four conceptions have been chosen and described:

  1. Conception A (organic): interprets the disability as an inherent attribute of the individual, adopting as reference the deviation from an organic pattern of normality, or the presence of a fault or limit that causes malfunction in a certain organism. The measures to change this deficit are depleted in the individual who presents it.

  2. Conception B (psychosocial): interprets disability as a differentiated organic condition, associated with causal factors of social, emotional, economic and/or educational nature that influence human constitution. Here, disability derives from environmental factors or factors inherent to the individual, but to interpret it, it is necessary to focus the analysis on the subject that presents it.

  3. Conception C (historical-cultural): interprets disability as dynamic, relational and procedural, based on the association between individual and socio-cultural context, which leads to a differentiated human development, adjustable according to expectations and attitudes directed to it. The disability arises from a biological dysfunction that entails limitation and, as a consequence, a social barrier. It is historically signified in the context of its occurrence2.

  4. Conception D (metaphysical): interprets disability as something that transcends the human condition, being associated with spiritual and/or religious causes, or to supernatural factors. In this way, it is a set phenomenon, which depends very little on the performance of the individual. Even though the term metaphysics can refer to another vast array of definitions, it was adopted in this scale due to studies on disability that consider it to be more appropriate to refer to the way of thinking disability from a metaphysical perspective, based on a spiritual matrix, “considering it a manifestation of desires or divine punishments, generating the segregation of people with disabilities and contributing to the emergence of feelings of charity and compassion towards them”, an assertion rescued by Carvalho-Freitas and Marques (2007, p. 74).

For each of the four approaches mentioned, five assertions were formulated, configured as affirmative statements, portraying different, socially constructed meanings on the concept of disability. In other words, with grounds on the literature consulted, the elaboration of statements that classified the disability under four different perspectives circulating in the current scenario was sought. After it was written, the instrument was sent to a specialist in Languages and Literature to verify the syntax of how the assertives were written. Minor grammatical corrections were made.

However, it is worth mentioning that a preliminary version of the set of assertions was elaborated. For its preparation, assertions were made that involve the subjects of disability as well as social and educational inclusion. A first version of the instrument was applied to a sample of students from the ninth semester of the Psychology course and from the seventh semester of the Information Systems course, both from a public university, because they are distinct groups, one with contact with curricular contents regarding the research topic and another that did not receive information about the subject while at undergraduate level.

In summary, during two years, the initial instrument was presented to undergraduate students in different areas - as well as for beginners and graduates of the same course (162 students from Psychology, Journalism or Computer Sciences courses), as well as forty teachers recently trained in Pedagogy. For each application, the relevance of the statements and the degree of agreement with the proposed design were ascertained. Such methodological care was taken to seek assertions that could be interpreted by respondents in order to reach their understanding of disability.

Thus, with the aim of ascertaining the possible interpretations of the concepts conveyed in the statements of the scale, the assistance of other researchers was requested for the analysis of the instrument. Such an action was considered important to identify criticisms regarding the instrument, with the intention of being presented assertive statements that best understood the meaning of disability circulating in society, that is, seeking to build a sensible instrument.

The scale was sent to ten researchers, all with theoretical-methodological familiarity in research on disability, working in postgraduate programs in Special Education, Psychology and/or Education. An invitation letter was prepared for researchers to act as judges - that is, as partners in the analysis of the research instrument with wide application range. To share this process, it is advisable to inform that the invitation letter was sent by electronic mail, indicating that the participation in this study would contemplate two moments: (a) to establish the relation between twenty statements with four a priori conceptions and (b) to indicate agreement or lack thereof with our classification of the assertions. The classification of the assertions would be forwarded after the response was sent, to ascertain the level at which they corresponded to the designated conceptions. In case of acceptance of the invitation, each researcher was informed that his identity would be preserved.

For this choice, it was considered, at first, to refer the instrument to researchers with high traffic in Special Education that met the following criteria: a) published in the area; b) minimum degree as Ph.D.; c) orientation in postgraduate work in the field; d) act as a teacher at university level; e) to act as a teacher in post-graduate programs stricto sensu, recognized by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes). After choice of names, the search for their e-mail addresses was made and, after that, the invitation letter was sent in the body of the message and the instrument was attached, while requesting reading confirmation.


After receiving the responses, an index of agreement was calculated between the original classifications of the statements with the judges’ scores, which ranged from 75 to 90%, but with an overall agreement rate of 85.5%. Following this, each judge received a response message with their discordant remarks and the corresponding percentage mark corresponding to the agreement, aside from a second request, which consisted in evaluating the extent to which the statements set out in the instrument were able to investigate the concepts proposed and indicate possible faults in the instrument. Nine of the ten initial judges responded to this message - some even made additional comments, analyzing their markings as compared to that of the research, as well as the descriptions of conceptions B and C, mainly.

Another action taken, in view of the divergent marking of two items in the scale, was to carry out a new writing and refer it to the ten judges to reclassify the items - but without prior knowledge of the original items that had been replaced. The index of agreement between the markings of these items was calculated, which was 84.4%, and the new writing was incorporated into the scale. In a general statistical analysis, the Kappa index was calculated between the ten judges and the researcher, obtaining K = 0.836. This reveals a high degree of agreement and Cronbach’s Alpha = 0.9874, indicating almost complete agreement and consistency with regard to the marking between the judges. This data, then, suggests that the proposed scale helps to understand the phenomenon towards which it is intended.

Referring to social psychology, Omote (1994) points out that “the concept of disabilty as verbally realized does not necessarily correspond to the interpretation that a judge, professional in education or health, has in mind with reference to the respective disability. This is where the scholar of disability can fall into a dangerous trap”(p. 71). The author then writes in the same text, “Then it is necessary to investigate the interpretation that this judge, this scholar, effectively has of disabilities in order to be able to understand his conduct towards people with disabilities” (Omote 1994: 71). In this way, the importance of the careful selection of judges who effectively collaborate with a careful evaluation of the instrument to be applied can be perceived to a great extent, avoiding biases on the part of the one that elaborates it. The evaluating judge, in this case, serves to highlight the possible misunderstandings or dubious interpretations, in view of their transit in the area of the phenomenon investigated. In other words, to avoid, as far as possible, the variability of responses and their interpretive limits.

Thus, after careful theoretical review of the elaboration of enunciates, as pertaining to the analysis and the considerations presented by the judges, this instrument was considered pertinent to verify how people manifest themselves before the statements, which portray differentiated positions in relation to people with disabilities, indicating how they conceive and assess disability.

The final draft of the Conceptions of Disability Scale (CDS)3 was formatted as shown in Chart 1, consisting of a set of twenty assertions that depict four different conceptions of disability, arranged in the form of five non-consecutive statements of each approach. For each assertion, the respondent should indicate a single answer option, which indicates a degree of agreement, under a Likert scale, in five ordered points, where the lowest value indicates from total agreement to full disagreement with higher value, with indifference in-between. In order to do so, we sought a scale format that could capture the possible meanings attributed by respondents, due to their manifestation in the face of diverse statements that portray the disability in very different ways, but circulating in social discourses. The final CDS configuration is shown as follows4.

Chart 1 Research Instrument 

Below are twenty statements, each followed by five alternatives that indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with its content. After reading, please indicate one of the alternatives that best expresses your degree of agreement or disagreement. The alternatives are: (a) Fully agree; (b) Partially agree; (c) Neither agree nor disagree; (d) Partially disagree; (e) Strongly disagree. For each statement, mark only one alternative. Thank you for your collaboration.
1 Disability is caused by a lack of proper educational guidance.
2 People with disabilities represent karma for events of other incarnations.
3 Disability is caused exclusively by biological, congenital and genetic factors that determine human development.
4 The treatment given to a person with a disability denies them full participation in different social contexts.
5 People who have someone disabled as a member of their family are paying for a mistake they made.
6 Disability can be interpreted as arising from biological and social causes.
7 The lack of environmental conditions generates organic disabilities that deserve treatment.
8 Disability is a biological difference that is predetermined by its degree of impairment.
9 People with disabilities are especially protected by God.
10 People with disabilities have some fault or organic limit that, in itself, leads to poor human development.
11 Disability is aggravated by the lack of economic resources available for human development.
12 In a given culture, disability is due to the other’s attitudes and expectations.
13 The person with a disability is an enlightened person.
14 Attitudinal and structural barriers aggravate the condition of disability.
15 A person with a disability is abnormal.
16 A person is considered less or more disabled depending on the context in which they are inserted.
17 Although disability is caused by different factors, it focuses on the person with functional limitations.
18 Disability is a pathology and can be explained by a fault in the person, justified by the presence of deviant elements from a biological or functional point of view.
19 A person with disabilities comes into the world to submit to divine trials and develop their spirituality.
20 The severity of the disability is defined according to society’s interpretation of it.

Source: Self-elaboration.

Final considerations

This text sought to share the methodological procedures adopted for the elaboration of a research tool that would allow to know the conceptual model and the interpretations resulting from the analysis of conceptions of disability. Such a proposal is believed to be meritorious due to the extensive work based on this methodological resource by researchers in the field of psychology, in addition to the extensive study load applied in the two years committed to the formulation of the CDS and to the development of shared procedural steps on screen.

The use of a set of researchers in the field to assist in the elaboration of CDS statements was considered interesting, since it enabled the refinement of subjective questions in the analysis of a phenomenon of social relevance. Thus, the final writing of the statements presented a significant agreement between its content and the one corresponding to each of the four conceptions investigated, making it possible to elaborate statements with semantic consistency.

Another factor made possible by the collaboration of judges was the quality of balance in the statements of each conception in the whole of the scale. It is worth noting that there has been a flicker in the communications between researcher and judges, which generated some debate and interest on the part of the research instrument, resulting in an opportunity of joint reflection on the statements, besides provoking improvement in the grammatical proposition of some statements.

After these steps, the final format of the CDS - instrument published in this text - was reached, whose application is aimed at identifying the positioning of respondents to statements that depict different conceptions of disability. As previously reported, the concept of disability was conceived over time, suffering direct interference from cultural, socioeconomic and political aspects. Given this, in this study, after verifying a large bibliography, indicates four ways of interpreting disability: metaphysical, biological, social and historical-cultural, this being originated during the development of part of the results of the postdoctoral research described here.

It is worth reiterating that the choice to formulate a scale composed of statements that represent different conceptions is important, since its applicability predicts a large number of people and the numerical analysis of the answers helps to understand if what we perceive as a expressive phenomenon really is. Analyzing to what extent people assimilate statements that portray different conceptions in dealing with the disabled person becomes the most important object of this scale. This is important to understand how population segments conceive subjects that, due to different conditions, distance themselves from culturally valued and shared physical, behavioral and/or emotional patterns, being defined as different, deviating from a set normality, and considered abnormal. As well pointed out by Ribas (2011), disabled people are no longer welcome, since they carry with them the representation of the negation “absence, non-existence, a lack that, in turn, points to the limit, the impediment, the deficiency and, consequently, result in loss, damage, and diminished capacity” (p. 27).

It is therefore believed that this article can contribute to the socialization of the methodological paths used for the elaboration of a research tool widely used in psychology, making use of judges to design a scale. Joint analysis of the material can, as in the case presented here, exceed the considerations initially envisaged by the researcher who makes use of this procedure for the methodological design of their study, since it allowed to guarantee another perspective that certainly enriched the phenomenon investigated. It is understood that recurring to this strategy is not simply a matter of conformity or not, but it is a preparation for the exposure of original ideas to the reaction of a competent reader in evaluating the material sent, which has facilitated critical and consolidated debate of the statements the relevance that the CDS may have for future studies.

Finally, discussing and complexifying how their characters conceive the phenomenon of disability is of interest to psychology, and there must be solidified actions by researchers in the field, since, besides subsidizing more immediate actions in this context, they can favor critical debate of public institutions that adopt protective measures with respect to human diversity, especially in the Brazilian scenario at current times, in which measures that comply with the guarantee of human rights seem to have been allocated to the background by governmental administrators.


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1This text is derived from the actions developed in research funded by CNPq, process 158556/2012-7, and Fapesp, process 2014/03811-2.

2The development of a new definition was made based on the historical-cultural conception, since it was understood that previous conceptions failed to understand the secondary limitations derived from primary disability, which, as well pointed out by Nuernberg (2008), “are socially mediated, referring to the fact the cultural universe is built according to a normality standard that, in turn, creates physical, educational and attitudinal barriers to the social and cultural participation of the disabled person” (p. 309).

3It is worth mentioning that this text is limited to portraying the methodological course carried out for the formulation of CDS. For detailed information on procedures for applying and evaluating responses, contact the authors directly.

4Due to the limits and main objectives of this article, the results of CDS applications will no longer be presented. However, other authors’ productions disseminate these findings.

Received: June 15, 2016; Accepted: June 29, 2018

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