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Social Work Professor Elspeth Slayter Co-Authors OER, Social Work Practice and the Disability Communities

Story by Tian Quinn

Since joining Salem State in 2005, Social Work professor Elspeth Slayter has focused her research on the intersections of race, ethnicity, and disability. Currently, Slayter is co-authoring a project on parenting and disability with Professor Lisa Johnson of the School of Social Work and graduate assistant Courtney O’Keefe that examines race and disability for disabled parents who are in the state’s child protection system. This project comes after Professor Slayter’s recent sabbatical, when, among other scholarly work, she was able to dedicate more time to researching and publishing resources related to current topics in social work, all of which she has been able to bring back into the classroom. 

Last fall, Slayter embarked on the sabbatical with the intention of completing a co-authored textbook resource with her colleague, Professor Lisa Johnson, that details the experiences of the disability community in social services. The prospect of the resource began in 2018 when Slayter and Johnson identified a need for a text that went beyond diagnostic distinctions, which has traditionally been the norm in social work resources, to one that recognized the environment as disabling while lifting up the voices of the disability community. Professor Slayter’s sabbatical allowed the co-authors to see this project through to publication.  

The textbook, Social work practice and the disability communities: An intersectional anti-oppressive approach, is an Open Educational Resource (OER) with fourteen chapters that build upon introductory frameworks, practice, and legal policies that allow readers to better understand experiences of the disability community across service sectors. The decision to publish an OER textbook was a key factor in the creation of this resource for both co-authors. Slayter notes that the unaffordability of many traditional textbooks can inhibit many students from finishing courses; providing this resource free of cost, she says, was important in promoting the social justice framework.  

For Professors Slayter and Johnson, the benefits of publishing the textbook as an OER allowed each chapter to be published as it was readily available. In another equity-minded departure from traditional textbook publishing standards, the co-authors decided to undergo the peer-reviewing process and designate three peer-reviewers to each chapter. In 2022, Slayter and Johnson received a grant that allowed payment for authors and peer-reviewers who were previously working without compensation.  

While the sabbatical allowed Professor Slayter time away from the classroom to focus on writing, the writing didn’t come immediately. For the first couple of months, Slayter found herself feeling blocked. To get into a productive writerly mindset, she eventually began work on some shorter writing tasks, which resulted in several trade articles that are freely accessible to the public. Although writing and publishing these articles was not what Slayter had originally planned for, the time she spent on them was refreshing and engaging, allowing Slayter to successfully return to the textbook by November. 

Professor Slayter says that the most impactful chapters she wrote are those that discuss the disability community’s experiences in the criminal legal system (Slayter explains that she uses the term “criminal legal system” instead of “criminal justice system” because the system is not just). Slayter’s expertise on this topic relates to her professional history, where, prior to 1995, Slayter worked in legal courts doing public defender work, serving as a social work specialist for legal teams representing disabled clients. For Slayter, having the freedom to dedicate full workdays connecting and engaging with a topic like disability in the criminal legal system was one of the most beneficial aspects of the sabbatical because it gave her the opportunity to revisit her prior experiences.  

During the sabbatical, Professor Slayter also provided consulting services to social work agencies and frontline social workers in Salem, Danvers, Boston, and beyond. In this ongoing aspect of her work, Slayter offers informative presentations and interactive workshops that outline and consider the best practices for working with disability communities. These talks focus on anti-racist and anti-ableist ways of engaging with individuals and communities, while also identifying the able-bodied privilege of participants. Information on these workshops and trainings are hosted on Slayter’s website

The research and consulting Professor Slayter does outside of the classroom helps inform the teaching she does with her own students. For Slayter, being in the community allows her to hear the current issues social workers are experiencing. In response, Slayter is able to prepare students for a variety of situations they might encounter during their internships and professional careers. Now, the OER co-authored by Slayter and Johnson is an additional resource Slayter can use to involve her students in more in-depth discussions on how people with disabilities are integral parts of the communities that social workers support. 

Congratulations on your publication, Professors Slayter and Johnson!  


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