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Occupational Therapy Students’ Disability Attitudes

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

Background: Entering occupational therapy (OT) students have established beliefs, informed by sociocultural backgrounds. Understanding how students define and understand disability, and the relationships these understandings have to disability bias, can guide curriculum design decisions to integrate meso and macro level perspectives of disability into clinical reasoning.

Aim/Objective: This study’s aim was to explore incoming occupational therapy students’ (n = 67) understandings of disability and their attitudes towards it.

Material and method: An online survey was used to collect data on students’ attitudes and definitions of disability. Mixed research methods were used to analyze students’ definitions of disability (content analysis) in relation to disability attitudes (Disability Attitudes Implicit Association Test).

Results/Finding: Findings reveal students enter curriculums with vast differences in understandings of people with disabilities and these may provide a basis for and contribute to differences in attitudes of disability.

Conclusions: OT students have established beliefs of disability as individualized or more socially constructed and these influence disability biases.

Significance: Students’ education has considerable influence in shaping attitudes and ways of interacting with people with disability. Understanding students’ assumptions as they enter a program is a first step to evaluate how curriculum design may influence development of student clinical reasoning strategies.

This abstract is a summary of the following journal manuscript: VanPuymbrouck, L. & Friedman, C. (2020). Relationships between occupational therapy students’ understandings of disability and disability attitudes. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 27(2),122-132.