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Perceptions of the physically disabled among college students from private vs.public secondary institutions

Alyson M. Small


      Thank you for visiting my site. I would first and foremost like to thank the Massachusetts Hospital School for inspiring my thesis topic.  The experiences I have shared there over the past two years not only influenced my research, but also opened my eyes to my true calling in life. 

      Also, I would like to thank my two confederates, Kerry and Joe.  It was an awkward request and both of you were real troopers.  I cannot thank you enough for your help.
       I would like to thank Dr. Richard Antonak for generously granting me permission to use his Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP), and to Nicole Dionne for helping me get in touch with him. 
      A special thanks goes out to Professor Ossoff who held my hand throughout this whole process.  I know it was probably painful at times, but I would not have known what I was doing without your guidanc
      Most importantly I would like to thank all of the psychology seniors.  It seemed that whenever anyone was in need of advice or a little encouragement there was always someone there to lend a shoulder or offer a hug.  I felt as though we really worked as a team.  It is finally done!  Congratulations all!!!
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      The purpose of this study is to determine whether active exposure to persons with a physical disability will influence college students to express a more favorable attitude toward disabled persons in general.  Research suggests that previous interaction serves a significant role in shaping people’s attitudes toward the disabled.  It had also been suggested that when experiencing direct contact with a disabled person people would express socially desirable attitudes about the disabled.  In the present study, four groups of students and two confederates were asked to complete the Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP), which is used to measure perceptions of the physically disabled (Antonak, 1981). Questions regarding the participant’s gender, previous interaction with persons with physical disabilities, and educational history (private or public high school education) were also included within the questionnaire.  Two of the four groups were control groups.  The other two groups had a confederate present with a visible disability.  Results indicated that previous interaction had a significant influence on attitudes, but the educational history did not have the anticipated effect.  Surprisingly, gender of the confederate was found to have a significant  influence on whether the participants expressed favorable attitudes toward the disabled. Further studies focusing on the influence of gender, and perhaps the nature of the contact with the disabled need to be conducted should be explored. 

Key Words: Physically Disabled, Perceptions, Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP), Previous Interaction, Public School, Private School 

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Several years ago there was a controversy surrounding a statue intended to honor former president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The disagreement was over the fact that the artist depicted the President seated, his lap draped in a blanket with a segment of his wheelchair exposed.  Although it is common knowledge today that F.D.R. suffered from Polio and was left paralyzed as a result, people were concerned that having him portrayed with his disability would promote an association of weakness with the late President.  Those who supported the representation of the President viewed it as a symbol of strength that one of the United States’ greatest leaders could overcome such a monumental obstacle.  Public attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities slowly began to shift toward a more favorable view after World War II when soldiers returning from war were in need of prosthetic devices (Beilke & Yssel, 1999).  However, with all of the pressure to be regarded as non-prejudiced toward people with physical disabilities the disagreement over the F.D.R. statue supports the notion that perceptions of the disabled have not changed as much as was believed.

      Studies on the perceptions and attitudes toward the physically disabled have been a topic of discussion for years. Common among studies is the repeated exposure of non-disabled participants to disabled ones (Donaldson & Martinson, 1977; Esposito & Peach, 1983; Fichten & Bourdon, 1986; Newberry & Parish, 1987; Troster, Hecker & Schulte, 1991).  These studies support the hypothesis that early childhood exposure to persons with disabilities can foster a less stereotypic attitude toward adults with physical disabilities as the children mature.  The purpose of the present study is to assess how college students perceive their physically disabled peers while taking onto consideration a degree of prior exposure associated with the type of high school the participants went to school.  Studies have shown that people who attended private institutions tended to have more negative perceptions of the physically disabled (Lehrer, 1983), possibly because they had less exposure to the disabled at these private institutions. 
      The perceptual distinction that can arise from being exposed to a private or public educational environment can begin at extremely early ages.  In a study conducted by Esposito & Peach (1983) 4 mentally retarded/physically disabled children from a public school were integrated into a private school setting with 9 non-disabled preschoolers for one hour per week over an eight month period.  The children were placed in situations that encouraged activities meant to promote social interaction.  A total of twenty-one sessions were conducted over thirty weeks.  The Primary Student Survey of Handicapped Peers (PSSHP) was developed for this study when it became apparent that no current scale was appropriate for testing very young children.  The PSSHP is a six-question oral exam suitable for non-literate children.  Results showed that greater exposure to the disabled was associated with more favorable attitudes by the non-disabled children.  This study serves as support for the early exposure theory. 
     In a related study researching early childhood exposure to the physically disabled (Lehrer, 1983), children were observed receiving indirect instead of direct exposure to a disabled individual.  A story about a physically disabled boy was read to a group of fourth grade children in a classroom setting.  The group was complied of 28 subjects from a mainstreamed or public classroom and 29 from a non-mainstreamed or private classroom.  Prior to the study, there were no physically disabled students in the private classroom, and no official mainstreaming program at the control school.   In the study, 10 characteristics were associated with the disabled boy in the story (acquisition items) and 8 novel characteristics (distractor items) that were implemented in a recognition memory task.  The error rate made in the memory task reflected how much the acquisition and distractor items compared with mainstreamed and non-mainstreamed perceptions of the disabled.  Results showed that the public school participants made fewer errors than private school subjects.  This supports the idea that a less stereotypic schema exists among students who received a public education given their greateexposure to the disabled.  The older the privately educated students get, the less exposure they have to people with disabilities, and therefore by the time they reach college their perceptions may be extremely stereotypic.Taken together the studies seem to support the idea that repeated exposure to the physically disabled decreases the likelihood of children forming stereotypic perceptions of the disabled.  It is what happens when these stereotypes are carried over into adulthood that inspired the current study. 
      In studies conducted with adults who assess their disabled peers, it has been suggested that able-bodied adults avoid interaction with the disabled because they are perceived by the able-bodied as socially and emotionally different due to their physical differences (Fichten & Bourdon, 1986).  A single disability is associated with affecting all dimensions of a person.  Weinburg (1976) conducted a study in which 372 participants were given a questionnaire consisting of items used to describe personality or attitude dimensions.  These dimensions were presented along with examples of people who possessed varying degrees of disability.  The results showed that the more extensive the degree of the disability the less attractive and more dependent the person was described as being.  These findings indicate that the differences associated with the physically disabled point in a significantly negative direction, in that, they are seen as less interactively attractive than an able-bodied person.  What is most striking about this study is that most participants probably had prior exposure to a physically disabled person.  The university in which participants were enrolled in had 200 physically disabled students on campus.  Even with a history of interaction able-bodied persons were unable to avoid stereotyping.  These results lead the current study to consider whether the presence of a peer with a physical disability would prompt a non-disabled person to alter their negative perceptions.  Unlike the Weinburg study, previous interaction alone was not used to elicit favorable attitudes.  A combination of previous interaction with direct exposure to a confederate with a disability was implimented.  In a related study conducted by Troster, Hecker & Schulte (1991), it was shown that non-disabled persons preferred a physically disabled partner in a social interaction to a non-disabled partner, but only when under known observation.  The study was used to test whether a “sympathy effect of physical handicap” is based on tendencies of impression management.  Subjects were given a choice of scenarios, either to sit with a visibly disabled individual while viewing a film or not to sit with them.  Public responsibility was manipulated by giving the subjects the freedom to choose whether seating would be public or private.  The results indicated that subjects only preferred the disabled partner when outside observation was expected.  In the private situation subjects chose not to sit with a disabled partner.  This suggests that non-disabled persons try to exhibit a positive attitude toward the disabled when the “reward” of recognition is anticipated.  In the current study an observer was present in the form of the test administrator, but the questionnaires were anonymous.  It was anticipated that the presence of the administrator combined with the confederate would be enough to provoke positive perceptions from the participants.  The “reward” in the present study would be the sense of self-satisfaction associated with acting in a socially desirable manner.  It was rationalized that the combination of the instructor and the confederate would prompt situational cues for the participants to act how they deemed as desirable, in other words, with more favorable attitudes. This investigator believes that favorable attitudes will by evoked because research has shown that most non-disabled people try to express attitudes and opinions that will be received favorably by disabled persons with whom they interact (Makas, 1988), but in many cases these attitudes can be received as condescending or false.  The Makas study (1988) involved three groups consisting of 92 disabled respondents, 69 “good-attitudes” non-disabled respondents, and 83 non-disabled respondents.  All participants completed the Issues in Disability Scale (IDS), which address attitudes toward people with disabilities in a variety of settings.  The disabled participants were asked to complete the IDS how they felt was the most positive manner.  The remaining two groups were asked to complete it honestly.  Results of the study showed that the disabled and non-disabled differ significantly on what was considered a most positive manner in that the non-disabled viewed positive attitudes as nice and helpful, but that the disabled were needy. 
     Ignorance of the proper ways in which to interact with the disabled can have a profound effect on future interactions between the disabled and non-disabled.  In a study by Dobson & Bost (1985), 39 schoolteachers of various positions assessed the seriousness and recommended treatments for behavior problems of six hypothetical students who might be found in mainstreamed classrooms.  Teachers perceived the behavior problems exhibited by non-disabled and/or physically disabled students as more serious than similar problems displayed by mentally disabled students.  Also, the treatments recommended for the non-disabled students tended to be more authoritarian than those recommended for the physically and mentally disabled students.  The results of this study indicate that teachers need to be trained in skills for handling behavior problems with disabled as well as non-disabled students.  This supports the notion that people tend to express unwarranted empathy toward the physically disabled.  The ladder two studies support the prediction that these reactions will manifest in the current study through direct exposure to the disabled confederate.  The unwarranted empathy will be expressed as favorable attitudes from the two experimental groups. 
      For many disabled students the college experience is their first encounter with the non-disabled world.  In a study by Fichten & Bourdon (1986), three groups of participants were gathered: one consisted of wheelchair bound individuals, the second consisted of a group without disabilities but with a history of significant contact with the disabled, and the third included a group without disabilities who did not have a history of contact with the disabled.  They were all given a social interaction questionnaire that consisted of frequently occurring situations involving social interaction and common behaviors in academic settings between non-disabled and disabled students.  Results indicated that disabled students rated behaviors of non-disabled students significantly higher than did non-disabled groups. All groups ranked their own behavior critically.  Both groups deemed the behavior of the other group as inappropriate rather than discriminatory, and it occurred with students who had little or no previous contact with disabled people.
      College and University faculty are not exempt from exhibiting stereotypical behaviors toward the disabled.  Higher education staff was found to be cordial enough, but students with special needs encountered a less than positive learning environment (Beilke & Yssel, 1999).  Studies have shown that post-secondary facilities accommodate students in a physical manner but the administration and faculty seem to lack information and understanding of what it means to have a pupil with a disability.  Beilke & Yssel’s (1999) study involved interviewing 10 undergraduate students with disabilities ranging from spina bifida and cerebral palsy to learning disabilities.  Results from these interviews showed that the students with visible disabilities reported a more rewarding educational experience than did students with non-visible disabilities.  However, subtle behaviors such as being ignored and/or interrupted by the faculty, professors maintaining physical distance, avoiding eye contact, offering little guidance and criticism and attributing success to factors other than ability were reported as occurring more frequently in the visibly disabled group.  This study suggests that the negative attitudes of some professors may play a significant role in determining whether physically disabled students fail or succeed in higher education.  This is pertinent because college students look toward their professors as mentors; therefore their perceptions not only affect their disabled students, but can also affect their non-disabled students reactions toward the disabled. 
      I hypothesize that when required to express their opinions toward the physically disabled, college students will alter their attitudes toward more positive opinions when directly exposed to a peer with a visible disability.  Students will answer more truthfully within the company of non-disabled peers as opposed to the more politically correct answer while in the presence of the a disabled peer.
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      Undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast participated in the study.  The sample consisted of 43 non-physically disabled students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, 10 males and 33 females.  The students were predominately Caucasian and varied from freshman to seniors.  All of the participants were enrolled in a general psychology and/or general biology course.  Also involved in the study were two confederates; one male and one female, both 21 years old, posing as physically disabled peers. 
       The Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP) was used as a dependent measure (see Appendix A for sample statements).  The SADP is a 24-item summated rating scale used to measure global attitudes toward people with disabilities.  The questionnaire requires the participant to rate each statement on a six-point scale ranging from –3 (“I strongly disagree”) to +3 (“I strongly agree”).  There is no neutral response option.  Half of the statements are worded so that an agree response (+3, +2, +1) represent a favorable attitude, and half of the statements are worded so that a disagree response (-3, -2, -1) represent afavorable attitude.  The responses are scored in the direction of a positive attitude then summed.  A constant is added to the sum to eliminate negative scores, with a higher score indicating a more positive view towards people with a physical disability as a whole. 
       Questions regarding the participant’s gender, type of high school they had attended, and previous contact with disabled people were also administered (Appendix B). 
      The 43 participants were divided into four experimental groups.  The second and fourth groups completed the SADP and personal history questions and were permitted to leave.  The first and third groups completed the same questionnaires but were exposed to a confederate posing as a peer with a physical disability participating in the same study. 
      The confederates consisted of one male and one female non-disabled student.  Both confederates were ambulatory, but enlisted the aid of forearm crutches and mimicked a gate similar to that of a person with cerebral palsy.  The first group included 10 participants and a female confederate, and the third group included 10 participants and a male confederate.  The confederates entered the experiment room a few minutes after the participants to increase awareness of their presence.  The confederates were also present in the two control groups but did not display any signs of a disability.  The first control group consisted of 12 participants and the second control group consisted of 11 participants. 
      Participants were told that the study was to assess performance appraisal of the physically disabled.  The same directions were given verbally to the participants by the instructor as well as printed on the questionnaires’ themselves.  Each group was allotted as much time needed to complete the survey.  After the questionnaires were collected each participant received a sheet debriefing them on the experiment (Appendix C).
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      The hypothesis of this study was that students who had attended public high schools would have a greater prior interaction rate with the physically disabled than students who had attended private high schools and therefore have more positive attitudes towards this group. The previous interactions experienced by the two groups were intended to support the theory that the more exposure to a person with a visible disability the more favorable their attitudes would be (Chesler, 1965; Esposito & Peach, 1983; Gosse & Sheppard, 1979; Kowalski & Rizzo, 1996; Lehrer, 1983).Direct exposure to a person with a physical disability was created via the use of confederates posing as persons with a permanent physical disability and was intended to elicit more favorable attitudes as well.  Independent variables included gender, previous interaction with the physically disabled, and type of high school participants attended (private or public) and gender of the confederate with a disability.  The primary dependent variable was scored using analyses including descriptive statistics, analysis of variance, and post-hoc tests.
      A post-experimental question to assess previous exposure to the disabled served as a manipulation check.  Participants were categorized as either those who have had high, moderate or low interaction with the physically disabled.  From the pool of 12 privately schooled participants, 66.6% of them reported high to moderate previous interaction with the physically disabled.  Among the 30 publicly schooled participants, 60% of them reported low to no previous interaction with the physically disabled.  These frequencies are in the opposite direction of what was hypothesized about the amount of exposure experienced through a person’s type of school.  For the remainder of the analyses the question of level of contact and not school type was used to identify the high exposure group from the low exposure group. 
      A 2(gender of confederate) x 2(condition: confederate/ control) x 3(previous interaction: high, moderate, low) an ANOVA was done on the total SADP score.  Results indicated that gender of the confederate made a significant difference with more positive attitudes elicited by the male confederate.  The mean for male confederate was 110.7 while the mean for female confederate was 101.6. 
      A significant main effect was found concerning previous interaction F(2,12) = 4.47, p < .05.  The means indicate that those with more exposure to the disabled had more positive attitudes (see table 1).  Also, a near significant condition by gender of confederate interaction was found F(1,12) = 4.35, p < .059.  These findings suggest that the group that expressed the most favorable attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities was the control male group with a mean of 117.4.  The results also indicate that the group that expressed the least favorable attitudes toward the physically disabled was the control female group with a mean of 99.6. These findings were not consistent with the direction of the hypothesis. (see table 2).

Table 1:
Mean SADP scores for main effect of level of previous interaction for the 2(gender of confederate) x 2(condition: confederate/control) x 3(level of previous interaction: high, moderate, low) ANOVA.
Level of previous            Mean            Standard Error

 High                                  114.7               3.8

 Moderate                         105.75             3.6

 Low                                   98.63               3.6
Note. Higher scores indicate more positive attitudes.

Table 2:
Mean SADP scores for the interaction of gender of confederate by condition for the 2(gender of confederate) x 2(condition: confederate/control) x 3(level of previous interaction: high, moderate, low) ANOVA
Gender of confederate                                                  Condition
                                                                          Confederate                Control 

 Male                                                                   104.00                         117.44
                                                                           (SE= 4.73)                  (SE= 3.35)

 Female                                                              103.67                           99.61
                                                                         (SE= 4.38)                   (SE= 4.19)
Note. Higher numbers indicate more positive scores

      Lastly, a significant 3-way interaction was found for gender of confederate, level of previous interaction, and condition (F(2,12) = 4.10, p < .05) was found.  These means indicate that it is the female confederate in the control condition that elicits attitudes opposite to what one would expect, with less favorable attitudes reported by these with more previous interaction (see table 3). 
Table 3
Mean SADP scores for the interaction of gender of confederate by condition by level of previous interaction for the 2(gender of confederate) x 2(condition: confederate/control) x 3(level of previous interaction: high, moderate, low) ANOVA
Gender of                                 Condition                                   Previous Interaction

 Male                                         Confederate                                High  124.00 (SE= 9.3) 
                                                                                                           Mod.  91.00  (SE= 9.3) 
                                                                                                           Low   97.00  (SE= 5.37)

                                                    Control                                        High  123.33 (SE= 5.37) 
                                                                                                           Mod.  122.00 (SE= 5.37)
                                                                                                           Low   107.00 (SE= 6.57)

 Female                                     Confederate                                High  114.00 (SE= 9.3)
                                                                                                           Mod.  112.50 (SE= 6.57)
                                                                                                           Low   84.50  (SE= 6.57)

                                                   Control                                         High  95.33  (SE= 5.37)
                                                                                                           Mod.  97.50  (SE= 6.57)
                                                                                                           Low   106.00 (SE= 9.23)
Note. Mod. means Moderate

      Although the presumption that private schools provide less exposure to the physically disabled than public schools was not supported by the results of the experiment, the hypothesis that previous exposure promotes more favorable attitudes toward the disabled was in fact supported.
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Generally speaking, the results indicated that previous interaction is an important factor in developing favorable attitudes toward the disabled.  The participants that reported low to no previous interaction displayed the least favorable attitudes toward the disabled.  The participants that reported high to moderate previous interaction expressed the more favorable attitudes.

     What was not confirmed in this study was the assumption that students from public high schools would have experienced more interaction with the disabled than those from private schools.  The results showed that 66.6% of the 12 private school students reported high to moderate interaction with the disabled, while only 40% of the 30 public school students reported high to moderate interaction.  Only 38 of the 43 participants’ scores were calculated because the remainders were not completed properly.  Also, the two populations were not represented as equally as was expected with only 12 participants from private schools and 30 from public.
     When gender has been researched on the measurement of attitudes toward the disabled, studies have shown that females generally express more favorable attitudes than males (Chesler, 1965; Gosse & Sheppard, 1979; MacLean & Gannon, 1995; Martinez & Sewell, 2000).  In the current study only 10 men participated with 33 women.  Therefore, gender was not as evenly distributed as was intended.  The group exposed to the confederate female consisted of 6 females and 4 males.  The control female group included 10 females and 2 males.  The confederate male group consisted of 6 females with 4 males, and the control male group was made up of 11 females.  This issue of gender will be discussed further.
     The participants exposed to the disabled confederates were not significantly affected by his or her presence, however there was a significant interaction between gender of confederate and the presence or absence of him or her.  The condition that yielded the highest scores was the control male group while those exposed to the control female confederate expressed the least favorable attitudes.  It is important to note that these are not necessarily negative attitudes, just more stereotypic attitudes.  The confederate male and female groups showed means of 104 and 103.7, respectively, which indicates a favorable attitude. 
     When looking at the gender of the confederate, the study yielded surprising results.  Scores indicated that the confederate male elicited slightly more positive attitudes than the female confederate.  This is inconsistent with the previous research, which has shown that females with a disability tend to elicit more favorable attitudes (Bruce, Harman & Baker, 2000; Martinez & Sewell, 2000).  What were surprising were the results of the 3-way interaction between gender of the confederate, which condition they were exposed to and the previous interaction reported by the participant.  The female control and female confederate conditions were the most interesting because they were opposite to what is suggested by previous research, which supports the notion that females express a more favorable attitude toward people with a disability.  However, when looking at gender of the confederate, when the female confederate was present there were favorable attitudes reported for those of high and moderate previous interaction, but when the female control was present the levels of favorably were low for these same exposure groups.  This is interesting because the majority of participants (10 out of 12) were females.  This may suggest that the females could have been more sensitive to the situational cues of the presence or absence of a disabled person than were the males.  Perhaps further research would be able to look into these complex findings. 
     Overall, the fact that participants were educated in a private or public institution did not have much bearing on an individual’s experience with the physically disabled.  It can be implied from this study that private institutions are either becoming more integrated or requiring more service experience than past research has suggested.  What is also implied here is the confirmation of the contact hypothesis in accordance with perceptions of the disabled; that is, the more contact a person has with a person with a disability the more favorable and less stereotypic their attitudes will become. 
      The current study was aimed to measure attitude differences by introducing subtle situational stimuli.   The confederates used forearm crutches and a gate similar to that of a person with cerebral palsy to represent a permanent physical disability.  A wheelchair was ruled out because it seemed too evident of a deception considering the small size and close proximity of the college residents.  A person in a wheelchair would have attracted much attention.  Perhaps a more brazen approach would have generated more extreme results in either a favorable or unfavorable way.  Since there was an unequal representation of males, future studies could require an equal number to complete the questionnaire.  Also, a pre-test could aid in obtaining an equal number of private and public high school alumni to deal with this variable more effectively.  This experimenter chose not to use a pre-test to avoid creating a defensive attitude toward a participant’s educational background.  More detailed background questions would be helpful, but the questions presented did result in support of the hypothesis of the influence of previous interaction. 
      Although some aspects of the study were not consistent with the proposed hypothesis the contact theory was confirmed.  The study was successful in supporting the importance of previous interaction on shaping peoples’ perceptions of the physically disabled.  Gender was not an initial focus of the study, but as variables were measured it proved a significant factor in the reporting of perceptions.  Gender of both the confederate and participants should be should be a focus in future studies. 
      Studies that investigate issues concerning the physically disabled are important because these people tend to be the forgotten minority.  Research has reported a commonality of discomfort around persons with disabilities (Bruce, Harman & Baker, 2000; Fichten & Bourdon, 1986; MacLean & Gannon, 1995; Makas, 1988; Weinburg, 1976).  These studies combine to support the theory that the less contact with the disabled, the less knowledge one has about the disabled, therefore more discomfort is experienced by the non-disabled.  Donaldson & Martinson (1997) suggest that the reason women have a more favorable view is that they tend to be more knowledgeable about disabilities and have more contact with the disabled.  It is important to know the source of this uneasiness in order to eliminate it.  Studies similar to the current one also benefit the education of children.  With research pointing toward the benefit of early exposure in childhood leading to tolerance (Esposito & Peach, 1983; Lehrer, 1983) these studies could provide a basis for educational programs in our schools. It is one thing to find out whether favorable or unfavorable attitudes towards the disabled exist, it is another to actually intervene and modify these attitudes.  Even with prior contact with persons with a disability, many non-disabled people have never heard a disabled person share their feelings about how disabled people are perceived or how they feel about their condition.  It has been suggested that live and videotaped discussions by a panel of disabled persons may be effective in modifying stereotypic attitudes toward the disabled (Donaldson & Martinson, 1977).  Future research could focus on the long term effects of such infusion based educational techniques. 
      Also, the type of disability a person has may be a factor in shaping the attitudes of the non-disabled.  People with learning disabilities tend to elicit less tolerant attitudes when compared with those with visible disabilities (Beilke & Yssel, 1999; Dobson & Bost, 1985; Newberry & Parish, 1987).  These studies showed that a tolerant attitude was present, but that non-disabled people expressed signs of discomfort through body language, such as avoiding eye contact.  Stereotypes and intolerance do not simply consist of words or opinions, people communicate with their entire bodies.  It is not the mere existence of contact but the nature that affects attitudes.  In 1985, Fichten, Compton & Amsel conducted a study in which participants were asked required to imagine empathy toward person with a disability; it had no effect on attitudes.  What resulted in an effect on attitudes were the participants’ socially desirable beliefs and stereotypes that they brought with them.  Gosse & Sheppard (1979) further support that future research needs to explore the type of contact, duration of and most importantly quality of contact.  The study suggests that a negative initial encounter tend to skew a non-disabled persons perception in a negative manner.
Studies have confirmed that early exposure is beneficial in children and adults; something needs to be done to educate the current educators.  This can begin with post-secondary institutions going beyond aesthetic accommodations and supplying the necessary supportive services, which include aids for both student and professor.  Institutions should designate a person to coordinate the education of the physically disabled (1999), but they must be cautious not to alienate the students from the rest of the collegiate population.  If Franklin D. Roosevelt can lead a country out of a Depression while suffering from polio, the development of a quality infusion based disability awareness program seems elementary. 
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  • Antonak, Richard F. (1981)
  • Beilke, Jayne; Yssel, Nina. (1999). The chilly climate for students with disabilities in higher education. College Student Journal, 33, 364-372.
  • Bruce, Jerry A; Harman, Marsha J; Baker, Nancy A. (2000). Anticipated social contact with persons in wheelchairs. Nova Science, 219-228.
  • Campbell, N. Jo; Dobson, Judith; Bost, Jane M. (1985).  Educator perceptions of behavior problems of mainstreamed students. Exceptional Children, 51(4), 298-303.
  • Chesler, Mark A. (1965). Ethnocentrism and attitudes toward the physically disabled. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2(6), 877-882.
  • Donaldson, Joy; Martinson, Melton C. (1977). Modifying attitudes toward physically disabled persons. Exceptional children: Journal of the international Council for exceptional children, 43(6), 337-341.
  • Esposito, Beverly G; Peach, Walter J. (1983). Changing attitudes of preschool children toward handicapped persons. Exceptional Children, 49(4), 361-363.
  • Fichten, Catherine S; Bourdon, Claudia V. (1986). Social skill deficit or response inhibition: Interaction between disabled and nondisabled college students. Journal of College Student Personnel, 27(4), 326-333.
  • Fichten, Catherine S; Compton, Vicki; Amsel, Rhonda. (1985). Imagined empathy and attributions concerning activity preferences of physically disabled college students. Rehabilitation Psychology, 30(4), 235-239.
  • Gosse, Verena F; Sheppard, Glenn. (1979). Attitudes toward physically disabled persons: Do education and personal contact make a difference. Canadian Counsellor, 13(3), 131-135.
  • Kowalski, Ellen M; Rizzo, Terry L. (1996). Factors influencing preservice student attitudes toward individuals with disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 13, 180-196.
  • Lehrer, Ariella. (1983). The effects of mainstreaming on stereotypic conceptions of the handicapped. Journal of Educational Research, 27(4), 94-99.
  • MacLean, Doug; Gannon, Paul M. (1995). Measuring attitudes toward disability: The interaction with disabled persons scale revisited. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10(4), 791-806.
  • Makas, Elaine. (1988). Positive attitudes toward disabled people: Disabled and nondisabled persons perspectives. Journal of Social Issues, 44(1), 49-61.
  • Martinez, Ramiro; Sewell, Kenneth, W. (2000). Explanatory style in college students: Gender differences and disability status. College Student Journal, 34(1), 72-82.
  • McLoughlin, William. (1982). Helping the physically handicapped in higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23(3), 240-246.
  • Newberry, Marva K; Parish, Thomas S. (1987). Enhancement of attitudes toward handicapped children through social interactions. Journal of Social Psychology, 127(1),  59-62.
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Appendix A

The statements below express opinions or ideas about people who are disabled.  There are many differences of opinion; many people agree and many people disagree with each statement.  Please circle the appropriate number, from -3 to +3, which best corresponds with how you feel about the statement.  There are no right or wrong answers.  Please respond to each statement.
-3: I strongly disagree            +3: I agree a little 
-2: I disagree pretty much     +2: I agree pretty much 
-1: I disagree a little                +1: I strongly agree
1.Disabled children should not be provided with a free   public
                 -3   -2   -1   +1   +2   +3
8. Disabled people are in many ways like children.
                 -3   -2   -1   +1   +2   +3
15. Zoning ordinances should not discriminate against disabled people by 
      prohibiting group homes in residential districts.
                 -3   -2   -1   +1    +2   +3
24.Disabled individuals can be expected to fit into competitive society.
                 -3   -2   -1   +1    +2   +3
*This test was reprinted with permission of the author, Richard Antonak (1981). Development and psychometric analysis of the Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons.  Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Education Department. 
 Appendix B
The following is a brief questionnaire intended to gather some general background information.  Please circle or fill in the appropriate information.
1. Age _______
2. Gender:   M   F
3. Year of graduation:  2003     2004     2005     2006
4. Did you attend a private or public high school?   Private   Public
5. Have you ever had any previous interaction with the disabled?   Yes   No
If yes, please explain how.
6.Is anyone in your family disabled?  Yes     No 
If yes, please explain your relationship to them and their disability.                ______________________________________________________
7.Are you yourself disabled?   Yes     No 
If yes, please explain your disability. 
Appendix C
Participant Feedback Sheet
I would like to begin by thanking you for participating in my senior thesis study; your help is greatly appreciated. As of 1994, 48.9 million people in the United States qualified as having a disability.  Around 1.5 million of these people are in wheelchairs and another 4 million use the aid of a cane, crutch, or walker.  With 4.5 million people in the U.S. with a visible disability the population of non-physically disabled persons should be used to interacting with the physically handicapped.  Yet research shows that interaction is not a common occurrence.  However, if exposed at a young age non-disabled persons tend not to hold many of the stereotypical views of the disabled.  The purpose of my thesis is to look at how college students perceive the physically disabled depending on their possible exposure to the disabled.  The main focus of my research is to measure whether there is any difference between college students who had had previous exposure to persons with disabilities and those who had not.  I asked whether participants had attended private or public schools because research has shown that public schools offer a greater exposure rate to the physically disabled than private schools. 
Four groups of participants were placed in two different environments.  Each of the groups took the same questionnaire that focused on people’s perceptions of the physically disabled.  The difference was that two of the groups completed the questionnaire with a peer present who appeared to have a physical disability, one female the other male, while the other two groups had no interaction with the disabled person.  The disabled individual was in the room posing as a participant but was in fact there to create exposure to a person with a disability.  My intent was to test whether the presence of a person with a physical disability would elicit a different response from the questionnaires of the non-exposed participants. 
I greatly appreciate your contribution to my senior thesis.  The questionnaire is completely anonymous and in no way reflect on you personally.  It is important to note that there are no right or wrong answers to any of the questions.  The use of deception was necessary to collect honest, unbiased answers.  I would have preferred a different method but circumstances would not allow it. 
Please remember that this is an ongoing research project that does require some secrecy, so I am relying on you not to discuss information concerning this research project until November 26th.  If you have any questions, concerns or are interested in the results please contact me: Alyson Small,  Thank you
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Relevant Links

Saint Anselm College
Massachusetts Hospital School

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