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Disability Attitudes of Family Members

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

Family members of people with disabilities have a unique relationship to disability, as they have more connectedness to people with disabilities, and often have more intimate relationships because of being a family member. Less research has focused on family members’ attitudes towards disability more broadly. Attitudes occur on two levels: conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit). The aim of this study conducted by CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership was to examine family members’ conscious and unconscious attitudes towards disability. To do so, we analyzed explict and implicit attitude data from 180,701 family members of people with disabilities.

Findings revealed that although the majority of family members in the study had low levels of conscious disability prejudice, they had high levels of unconscious disability prejudice (see figure below).

Unconscious Disability Attitudes of Family Members

“The fact that family members have implicit disability negative attitudes is likely in part because ableism is very prominent, and implicit attitudes are connected to internalized values and normal cognitive processes which help people perceive the world… Moreover, it is also important to recognize that despite familial ties, family members of people with disabilities are not necessarily attitude-neutral as they may be perceived. Instead, family member’s relationships, roles, and decisions are likely influenced by implicit attitudes. Although they may have the best intentions for their loved one with disabilities, their decisions may be influenced by their implicit attitudes, which may be problematic given family members often are the decision-making authority on behalf of their child with disabilities, or even adult with whom they hold guardianship. Not to criticize families or imply they are intentionally doing harm to their loved one, rather, these findings suggest the need to also recognize the voices and lived experiences of people with disabilities, in addition to family members, such as parents… However, the burden to create change should not be placed on families or people with disabilities alone, instead, we must all work to reduce this dominant form of social oppression in systems and structures, mainstream portrayals, and everyday interactions” (Friedman, 2019).

This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: Friedman, C. (2019). Family members of people with disabilities’ explicit and implicit disability attitudes. Rehabilitation psychology, 64(2), 203.