INTRODUCTIONAttitudes are complex structures with many components. Attitudes refer to the beliefs and feelings that are related to a person or event. They are an effective way to interpret the environment. Feelings that someone may have can guide their reactions when they are in situations where they must respond quickly. For example, a person who believes that handicapped individuals are incompetent or inferior may feel dislike for them. These feelings may then lead the person to act in a discriminatory manner. Attitudes are learned through social and environmental experiences rather than determined by oneís genes. They can be altered or changed, however, this is often a difficult task because attitudes can be extremely resistant (Sable, 1995). There are three dimensions used to assess attitudes: an affective component, a behavioral component, and a cognitive component. These are often referred to as the ABCís of attitudes. The affective component refers to feelings or emotions that shape the attitude. The behavioral component refers to the intentions and the actual reactions of the person. Behaviors such as avoiding a person with a disability is an example of this component. The cognitive component consists of an individualís thoughts, ideas, and perceptions (Sable, 1995). For the purpose of this study, Meyersí (1996) definition of attitude is used. Attitude is defined as a favorable or unfavorable evaluative reaction toward something or someone, exhibited in oneís beliefs, feelings, or intended behavior. This definition includes all three of the components that are characteristic of attitudes.The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that the effects of physical impairments do not focus solely on the individualís motor strengths and needs. Instead, the cultural influence of the family and community environments and the physical impairments are inter-related and impact one another. This is termed continuum of disablement and it includes three levels: impairment, disability, and handicap. The International Classification of Impairments, Disease, and Handicaps defines each of these levels. Impairment is a loss or abnormality of structure or function. Disability is defined as the restriction or inability to perform an activity in the manner considered normal for humans. Finally, handicap is the social and psychological results of the impairment. Handicap refers to the problems and labels that society uses when associated with disabilities (Nagler, 1993). Most physical disabilities are characterized under two different categories, orthopeadic and neurological disorders. Individuals with an orthopeadic disorder may be born with or acquire problems with bones, muscles, fascia, and joints. Disorders under this category can be a result of genetic, chromosomal, or environmental related problems. Some common orthopeadic disorders include Spina bifida, Scoliosis, Cystic Fibrosis and Cerebral Palsy (Pagliarulo, 1996). Neurological disorders are problems related to the nervous system. They can also be inherited or acquired. Acquired disorders may result from trauma, disease, or as a part of the normal aging process. Traumatic disorders like spinal cord injuries are most often caused by motor vehicle accidents, falls, violence, and sports (diving and football). The age group most often affected is between 15-25 years and men are affected four times as often as women. Depending on the level of the injury, all limbs may be affected or only the lower trunk and legs may be affected. Common disorders from disease include Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinsonís disease, and muscular dystrophies. Multiple Sclerosis is a disease in which patches of demyelination occur in the nervous system. This will lead to disturbances in the conduction of messages along the nerves. The conditions usually develops between 15-45 years of age. Common symptoms include weakness, fatigue, and an alteration in sensations. If the disease is progressive, severe disability is the result (Pagliarulo, 1996). For the purpose of this study, Multiple Sclerosis and a reference to a diving accident are used for two of the conditions.Most literature on attitudes toward individuals with physical handicaps suggest that the majority of attitudes are negative. Findings from research on this issue have found that non-disabled individuals often hold negative attitudes toward those with physical handicaps and they see them as less able to participate in activities (Morgan & Wisely, 1996). Non-disabled individuals also tend to attribute success by handicapped persons to effort or luck rather than ability. They also perceive failures as a result of lack of ability rather than effort or luck (Cassidy & Sims, 1991). Those individuals who possess these negative attitudes tend to perceive people with handicaps as different, incompetent, and inferior to themselves (Millington, Strohmer, Reid, & Spengler, 1996). This can be illustrated in a study done by Fichten and Amsel in 1986. They found 21 traits to be attributed to disabled college students, but not non-disabled students. The majority of the traits were negative. Unsociable, insecure, helpless, and undemanding, and honest are representative of these traits (Goldstein & Johnson, 1997).There are factors that are associated with the attitudes of non-disabled individuals. Boys tend to have more negative attitudes than do girls (Woodard, 1995). Attitudes also tend to vary with age. Attitudes of non-disabled children toward individuals with a handicap improve from early childhood through early adolescence. However, attitudes in late adolescence are less favorable, while attitudes of young adults are again more positive. Researchers have concluded that that stereotypes and attitudes vary according to the nature of the handicap. Attitudes tend to be more favorable toward those who are competent and appear normal than toward those who appear incompetent and abnormal (Beck & Dennis, 1996; Colella, DeNisi, & Varma, 1998). Numerous studies have suggested that negative attitudes of peers have a tremendous impact on the life of an individual with a handicap. The personís self-concept, cognitive and social development, academic performance, and general psychological health may be largely affected. When an individual is not accepted by his or her peers, their educational environment and social opportunities in the school, community, work, and home may greatly suffer (Woodard, 1995). Many researchers wish for continued study on attitudes of individuals toward persons with handicaps so that doctors can develop intervention programs to change the negative attitudes, to improve training of personnel, and to remove any barriers to services that may exist (Sable, 1995). The purpose of this study was to determine if non-disabled persons have differing attitudes toward handicapped and non-handicapped individuals and if the cause of the disability (accident vs. disease) has an effect on these attitudes.
The participants in this study were students enrolled in Psychology 200 and Physical Education 101 courses during the spring semester at Missouri Western State College. Ninety-two students completed a questionnaire which measured attitudes toward persons with physical handicaps.
The materials consisted of two pictures and two brief scenarios. One picture was of a man seated in an ordinary chair and the second shows the same man seated in a wheelchair. One scenario stated that the man was involved in a diving accident and the second scenario said that the man was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Lazarís (1973) Attitudes Toward Handicapped Individuals scale was used to measure attitudes toward individuals with handicaps. The ATHI uses a six point Likert-type scale to determine the extent the participants agree or disagree with statements about individuals with handicaps.
The participants viewed a picture of a man that is seated in an ordinary chair or a wheelchair. These pictures were used to present the handicap and non-handicap conditions. Each picture was paired with one of the two brief written descriptions of the man. One description included a statement about how the man in the picture was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The second description was the same as the first, except that the statement about M. S. was replaced with a sentence stating that the man was involved in a serious diving accident. These two scenarios presented the accident and disease conditions. After the participants read one of the scenarios and viewed the corresponding pictures, they then completed the ATHI scale. There were a total of four conditions in this study. Group A viewed the picture of the ordinary chair and read the scenario with the accident statement. Group B received the picture of the ordinary chair paired with the scenario with the M. S. statement. Group C viewed the picture with the wheelchair and read the accident scenario. Finally, Group D received the picture with the wheelchair and the scenario with the M. S. statement.
RESULTSA 2 x 2 Between Subjects ANOVA was calculated to determine if there was a main effect for the handicapped vs. non-handicapped condition. A significant difference was found (F (1, 88) = 6.475, p = .013). The participantsí attitudes toward the man in the wheelchair ( M = 89.5) and the man in the ordinary chair ( M = 83.2) were seen differently.
A 2x2 Between Subjects ANOVA was calculated to determine if there was a main effect for the accident vs. the disease condition. No significant difference was found (F (1, 88) = .171, p = .68). The participantsí attitudes toward the man with M. S. and the man in the accident were no different.
A 2 x 2 Between Subjects ANOVA was calculated to determine if there was an interaction between the handicapped / non-handicapped and the accident / disease conditions. A non-significant trend was found ( F (1, 88) = 2.94, p = .09) indicating that the wheelchair had a greater effect on the participantsí attitudes when they believed that the disability was a result of an accident rather than a disease.
DISCUSSIONThe purpose of this study was to determine if students have differing attitudes concerning handicapped and non-handicapped individuals. Past researchers have found that attitudes toward individuals with physical handicaps are often different than those toward non-handicapped individuals. Also, the majority of these attitudes are negative. The findings from this study are consistent with the results from past research. This study found that the participants saw the subject in the wheelchair and the subject in the ordinary chair as being significantly different. However, the participantsí attitudes were not affected by whether the man had Multiple Sclerosis or whether he was involved in an accident. Finally, this study determined that the participantsí attitudes toward the man in the wheelchair were more greatly affected when they believed the handicap was a result of an accident. The difference found between the attitudes toward the handicapped and non-handicapped subject should be of great interest to those who interact with individuals with physical handicaps, such as health care providers. Woodard (1995) found that negative attitudes can negatively affect all aspects the personís life. Health care providers may want to take these findings into consideration when working with handicapped individuals. By better understanding the affects of negative attitudes, health care providers can become more successful at finding ways to motivate and interact with their patients. Also, Sable (1995) suggested that through continued research, doctors can develop intervention programs to help change these negative attitudes and improve personnel training. This study looks at the presence of differing attitudes toward non-handicapped and handicapped persons, however, it does not look at specific attitudes that these individuals hold. In addition, the participants of this study were from a limited geographic area. Students attending only one college from Northwest Missouri were used as participants, therefore, generalizations from these results may be limited.Future researchers may wish to study specific types of attitudes that individuals have toward handicapped individuals. Another extension to this research is to include handicapped personsí attitudes toward other handicapped individuals. Finally, it would be interesting to look at the attitudes of those who work directly with handicapped persons, such as health care providers and teachers.
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