Disability Social Worker Degrees – How to Become a Disability Social Worker [2024]

What is a Disability Social Worker?

A disability social worker is a type of healthcare social worker who helps people with physical and mental disabilities cope with the challenges in their daily lives. The problems they face depend on the type of impairment and the severity of their disability.

The term “disability” refers to how individuals interact with their environment. Disability social workers assist people in comprehending their diagnosis, and they support them in making lifestyle adjustments to accommodate their disability.

Disabled people often need help with transportation or with gaining access to buildings, and some find it difficult to communicate with devices with small screens like cell phones. Disability social workers also make sure their clients have safe and stable housing, and they may also help their clients find employment.

Disability social workers can connect disabled individuals with the right support groups to help them manage their disability and live as independently as possible. A disability social worker sometimes works with physicians and other healthcare professionals to explain the effects of the client’s disability on that person’s emotional and mental health.

What Does a Developmental Disability Social Worker Do?

Developmental disabilities are defined as a physical or mental impairment, or combination of both, that is manifested before the age of 22. People with developmental disabilities have substantial limitations in three or more life activity areas, including mobility, self-care, language, learning, self-direction, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

Developmental disability social workers help identify individuals who have developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and other conditions, and they assist them in managing their day to day activities.

Developmental disability social workers assess their client’s strengths and needs in order to determine what kind of support systems are required to help them achieve their goals. When the assessment is complete, the social worker creates an individualized plan to support the disabled person and improve his sense of wellbeing.

To secure the best programs to help the client, the disability social worker conducts research into community resources like governmental programs including Medicaid and food stamps. The social worker can then recommend programs that provide the suitable benefits and assist the clients in obtaining needed services.

Social workers act as advocates for their clients to get them the resources they need. When the services are implemented, the social worker follows up with clients to make sure that their situation has improved. The disability social worker evaluates provided services regularly to confirm that the programs are still meeting the needs of the client.

What Does a Children’s Disability Social Worker Do?

A children’s disability social worker works with the parents of children with disabilities such as ADHD. They help parents understand their legal rights so they can get the help they are entitled to for their children.

Children’s disability social workers also teach parents how to advocate effectively for their children, and how to locate the special services that can enable their child to become as independent an adult as possible.

The goal is for the disabled child to lead a fulfilling and productive life, and not just simply survive. Disability social workers counsel parents on an individual basis or in groups, and they may also provide family counseling.

Children’s disability social workers work with children who have physical and mental disabilities. They conduct social developmental studies by means of classroom observations and screening in order to diagnose the student. If the child meets certain criteria, a special education program is put in place.

The children’s disability social worker may assist with the creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) tailored to the educational needs of the child. This IEP is a legal document that explains how the student learns best and makes recommendations as to best strategies teachers and service providers can employ to help the child learn.

Like other social workers, children’s disability social workers evaluate the client, research community services and make recommendations for programs that will benefit the individual. They assess the effectiveness of the programs and make changes accordingly.

What Does a Learning Disability Social Worker Do?

Learning disability social workers help people who have difficulty learning because they are considered autistic, have cerebral palsy or suffer from other conditions.

People with learning disabilities have a significantly reduced ability to comprehend complex or new information, and they have difficulty learning new skills. Learning disabled individuals may also have an impaired ability to act independently. These symptoms typically show up in childhood and have long lasting effects on the individual’s development.

The learning disability social worker helps diagnose people with learning disabilities who are in need of special services. As mentioned before, children with learning disabilities receive an IEP that describes the child’s current level of performance, sets educational goals for the child, details special education services the school will provide and lists the modifications the school will make on the child’s behalf. The learning disability social worker may participate in the creation of the IEP and act as the child’s advocate.

Why Do We Need Disability Social Workers?

We need disability social workers to help disabled people live a full and productive life within their environment. Disabled people count on disability social workers to explain the implications of their disability and how it will impact their daily lives.

They also depend on their social worker to research programs and recommend the services that will provide the support they need so that they can live as independently as possible.

Disability social workers assist people with mental or physical disabilities or a combination of mental and physical disabilities in getting the help they need in the home.

Personal aides can provide assistance with the activities of daily life such as bathing and eating. However, people with disabilities need social workers to help them with transportation and communication issues, maintaining a safe environment by making accommodations in their home, and finding employment.

Where Does a Disability Social Worker Work?

Disability social workers work in a variety of settings. They may work in schools, in mental health clinics, in hospitals, at child welfare and human services agencies, or in private practice. Others work in state or local government or in hospitals.

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2021, 31 percent of all healthcare social workers were employed in state, local and private hospitals and 21 percent of all healthcare social workers provided ambulatory healthcare services.

Another 15 percent worked in residential care facilities such as nursing homes, and 13 percent worked in social assistance. Disability social workers typically work full time, and they are sometimes required to work evenings, weekends and holidays.

How to Become a Disability Social Worker?

Educational Requirements

Like all social workers, a disability social worker generally needs a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) for an entry level position, although some employers may accept a bachelor’s degree in a related field like sociology or psychology.

A BSW prepares the individual for positions such as a mental health assistant or caseworker. Students take coursework to learn about human behavior, social welfare policy and how to deal with diverse populations. As part of their program, BSW students gain hands-on experience through an internship or supervised fieldwork.

Aspiring disability social workers learn how human behavior is affected by social, biological, psychological and environmental factors. Students gain knowledge of the social welfare system and various populations like children, minorities and those who live in poverty.

Prospective social workers also learn research methods, and they apply their knowledge by learning how to interpret research findings. They gain skills to help them engage in and evaluate social problems. Through policy courses students learn about legislative and administrative policies that can affect their social work.

Social workers in healthcare may require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). The MSW typically takes two years, although there are programs that allow individuals with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn a master’s degree in one year.

The master’s degree program prepares students to make clinical assessments and assume supervisory duties. All MSW programs require an internship or a supervised practicum.

While students are not required to hold a BSW in order to be admitted to an MSW program, undergraduate coursework in sociology, psychology, political science and economics are recommended.


Licensing and certification requirements vary by state, but all states require licensing for clinical social workers. There may, however, be an exemption for clinical social workers employed in governmental agencies.

Typical licensing requirements for clinical social workers include completing a master’s degree in social work from an accredited program, completing at least two years or approximately 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduating, and passing a clinical exam.

A Licensed Bachelor’s Social Work (LBSW) requires a bachelor’s degree and four years of study, while a Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW) requires six years of study. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker requires a master’s degree plus 3,200 clinical hours of supervised experience after graduation, seven or eight years of study.

In addition, clinical social workers are required to pass an examination to become licensed. To maintain their license, clinical social workers are generally required to complete continuing education requirements. Continuing education requirements vary by state.

The Association of Social Work Boards provides specific information about licensing requirements by state.

What Skills are Required for a Disability Social Worker?

  • Communication: A disability social worker must have strong communication skills in order to explain a diagnosis to clients and tell them how their disability will affect their lifestyle. They also need communication skills to explain to doctors how the client’s disability affects his sense of wellbeing, and to advocate for their clients in order to secure needed services.
  • Problem Solving: Disability social workers use their problem solving skills to help disabled people cope with the challenges they face in their daily lives by making accommodations.
  • Research Skills: Social workers use their research skills to investigate community services and to choose the right programs for their clients.
  • Listening Skills: Disability social workers listen to their clients to find out about the challenges they face. By understanding the needs of their disabled clients, they can help provide the support they need in their daily lives.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Social workers should have compassion for their clients and their challenges. They use their interpersonal skills to work with colleagues for the benefit of their clients.

How Much Does a Disability Social Worker Make?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2022 all social workers earned a median salary of $55,350 per year or $26.61 per hour. The median is the wage at which half of the workers earn less than that amount, and half earn more.

The job outlook for social workers is projected to grow 11 percent, faster than average for all occupations. In 2022, there were  728,600 social workers, and that figure is projected to expand by 64,000 in 2028.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook notes that employment increases will be the result of a greater demand for social services and health care.

As more students are “mainstreamed” into general education classrooms and extracurricular activities, disability social workers can be called upon to help. They may be part of a team that creates IEP’s, and they make sure that needed special education and related services are provided by the schools. These services may include accommodations in the manner that a child demonstrates what he has learned, and modifications that change what is expected of the student.

Salaries for all social workers vary by geographical location, according to Payscale.com, with Washington, Seattle and Los Angeles workers earning up to 28 percent more than the national average, and cities including Columbus, Atlanta and Austin earning below the national average.

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