An Overview Of The Occupational Therapy Study

Who Is Involved?

It was conducted by CQL and Rush University. Participants represented three different universities.

When Did It Start?

The longitudinal occupational therapy research project was first launched in 2017 and ran until 2022.

What Is The Project?

The project examined how OT students’ attitudes about disability change over time in reaction to coursework and clinical placements.

Why Was It Created?

Exploring OT curricular influences on attitudes provides invaluable information during a paradigm shift to social models of intervention.

Where Is The Impact?

This study involved participants of incoming cohorts from graduate level accredited OT programs at three universities, tracking them over time.

How Does It Help The Field?

Findings from this study can inform occupational therapy on curriculum design to ensure it promotes the equality of people with disabilities.

Inside The Occupational Therapy Study

Understanding the role different understandings of disability have on professional development will help OT be more social justice oriented – more clearly identify and meet the needs of the disability community. Educational programs have an obligation to understand how new knowledge is translated and integrated by future clinicians.


This study’s understanding of disability is grounded in disability studies’ social model; a socio-political reframing that theorizes disability as social, political, and cultural. In contrast to the medical model, which sees disability as deficits or deviance and society as “fixed,” the social model locates the problem of disability within society.


OT has acknowledged critiques from the disability community of the negative impact on clients with interventions driven by locating disability solely within the individual. OT has a growing emphasis on client-centered practice and social justice that aligns with the social model of disability that locates disability in social barriers.


The study used The Disability Attitude Implicit Association Test (DA-IAT) and the Symbolic Ableism Scale (SAS), which measure implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) disability attitudes, respectively. We also conducted a series of annual qualitative interviews to examine the students’ attitudes towards and understandings of disability.


Qualitative analysis using theoretical thematic analysis was completed for the following data: interviews; reflections; and, qualitative survey answers. After immersion in the data, the data was examined for patterns across the data and initial codes will be generated. These codes were grouped into themes, which were presented in terms of major and minor themes. Quantitative analyses were conducted for all other data.

Research Partners

For this study we partnered with Rush University. The project was funded by The Spencer Foundation.

Rush University

Rush University is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois.


Rush University

The Spencer Foundation

The Spencer Foundation invests in education research that cultivates learning and transforms lives.


The Spencer Foundation

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