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Disability Attitudes of Health Care Providers

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

Ableism – discrimination and oppression of people with disabilities – is very prominent. In fact, research has found that most people are prejudiced against people with disabilities, even if they are not aware of it. It is more common for people to have unconscious (implicit) prejudice against people with disabilities than conscious (explicit) prejudice.

One of the reasons prejudiced attitudes are so problematic is because biases influence our behavior. For example, how might health care providers’ disability attitudes impact their clinical decision making or the services they provide to people with disabilities? The aim of this study was to explore health care providers’ explicit and implicit attitudes about disability as well as factors associated with more prejudiced attitudes.

Our analysis of approximately 25,000 health care providers’ attitudes revealed that although most health care providers consciously (explicitly) believed they were not prejudiced, the overwhelming majority of health care providers were unconsciously (implicitly) prejudiced against people with disabilities. In fact, a whopping 83% held negative unconscious attitudes about people with disabilities (see figure).

Implicit Disability Attitudes of Health Care Providers

“The findings from our research indicate the majority of providers do hold implicit biases against people with disabilities, and, in many cases, are not cognizant of their own biases… The differences between the participants’ explicit and implicit attitudes also suggest more precarious ramifications might occur when socially unacceptable implicit attitudes are masked by superficial, explicit acceptance, especially by individuals in traditional positions of power who are entrusted with health-related clinical decisions for people with disabilities… Reducing ableism in broader society is the ultimate objective; within health care, achieving this is a proximate mandate and the only option for providers to attend to their ethical commitments of benevolence and nonmaleficence for all communities they serve.” (VanPuymbrouck, Friedman, & Feldner, 2020, pp. 6-9)

This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: VanPuymbrouck, L., Friedman, C., & Feldner, H. (2020). Explicit and implicit disability attitudes of healthcare providers. Rehabilitation Psychology, 65(2), 101–112.