Public Media Changes Attitudes Toward Persons with Disabilities


Lu, J., Webber, W. B., Romero, D., & Chirino, C. (2018). Changing attitudes toward people with disabilities using public media: An experimental study. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 61, 175–186. doi:10.1177/0034355217700


Persons with disabilities (PWDs) experience numerous barriers when attempting to integrate into society.  While each PWD faces unique challenges dependent on their particular circumstance, collectively, negative attitudes towards PWDs has been their biggest barrier.  As a result, rehabilitation researchers have explored ways to potentially reduce negative attitudes, often perpetuated by negative stereotypes, in order to facilitate integration and participation of PWDs within their communities and larger society.  Public media, which portrayed PWDs as incapable, helpless, and dangerous, contributed to negative societal perceptions of PWDs.  Recently, rehabilitation researchers have attempted to utilize public media to improve attitudes toward PWDs.  However, results were criticized or generalizability limited due to flawed research designs.  The purpose of the reviewed study was to examine the effects of videos portraying PWDs on viewers’ attitudes.  The study was a randomized control trial which utilized a 2x2 factorial design with repeated measures, and was conducted at a Southern research university.  Inclusion criteria consisted of: (1) undergraduate students in Introduction to Learning Strategies and Skills, Freshman Compass, and Educational Psychology courses.  The study took place over a one-week time period, with participants attending on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The treatment group watched one 10-minute (approximate time) video that depicted real-life experiences of PWDs on each session, while the control group engaged in one 10-minute audio recording of a mindfulness body scan on each session.  All participants completed a battery of assessments on the first (pre-test, prior to watching the video/engaging in mindfulness) and last (post-test, after watching the video/engaging in mindfulness).  Assessments measured explicit attitudes (Attitudes toward Persons with Disabilities Scale, Form O, Factor 1 [ATPD-O-1]), implicit attitudes (Disability Attitude–Implicit Association Test [DA-IAT]), and mindfulness (Mindfulness Awareness Attention Scale [MAAS]).  The main outcome variable was attitudes toward PWDs, and measured by both explicit and implicit attitudes.  Data of 48 undergraduate students were included in the study.  The control group did not demonstrate a significant change in explicit or implicit attitudes from pre-test to post-test, or on mindfulness (which could have impacted results).  The treatment group demonstrated a significant change in explicit and implicit attitudes from pre-test to post-test, but not on mindfulness.  Participants in the treatment group had more positive explicit attitudes toward PWDs after watching the videos; however, their implicit attitudes toward PWDs were more negative after watching the videos.  The authors speculated that this was because the videos demonstrated both PWDs success as well as struggles in life.  Thus, depending on how students processed the videos of PWDs (e.g., optimistically or pessimistically), would have a direct impact on their implicit attitude toward PWDs.  However, the lack of including a social desirability measure could have inadvertently contributed to results of more positive explicit attitudes.  They recommended for future researchers to include such a measure, as well as examining the implications of different types of videos of PWDs (e.g., real-life vs. humor), and utilizing a larger sample.  Overall, the results demonstrate that public media portrayal of PWDs can significantly impact viewers’ attitudes toward PWDs.

I SELECTED THIS ARTICLE BECAUSE attitudes toward PWDs continue to play a major role in the integration of PWDs into their communities and society.  Negative attitudes toward PWDs are the biggest barrier, while positive attitudes toward PWDs can facilitate the participation and integration of PWDs in their major life areas (e.g., employment), and ultimately increase their quality of life.  Rehabilitation psychologists, educators, and researchers could utilize this information to further improve the outcomes for PWDs.

THIS MONTH’S REHABILITATION SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT was chosen by Jennifer Sánchez, Ph.D., CRC, Assistant Professor, Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation, and Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education, The University of Iowa, and a member of Division 22’s Science Committee.