Research Article
Issue Date: July/August 2021
Published Online: June 07, 2021
Updated: July 09, 2021
Impact of Occupational Therapy Education on Students’ Disability Attitudes: A Longitudinal Study
Author Affiliations
  • Carli Friedman, PhD, is Director of Research, The Council on Quality and Leadership, Towson, MD; cfriedman@thecouncil.org
  • Laura VanPuymbrouck, PhD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, Rush University, Chicago, IL.
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Special Issue on Occupational Therapy and Disability Studies
Research Article   |   June 07, 2021
Impact of Occupational Therapy Education on Students’ Disability Attitudes: A Longitudinal Study
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, June 2021, Vol. 75, 7504180090. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.047423
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, June 2021, Vol. 75, 7504180090. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.047423
Abstract

Importance: Discrimination based on disability—ableism—is pervasive and affects the opportunities of people with disabilities to fully engage in society.

Objective: The aim of this study was to explore the impact of occupational therapy graduate education on students’ explicit and implicit disability attitudes throughout their graduate education.

Design: Longitudinal observational study, measuring occupational therapy students’ attitudes on an annual basis.

Setting: Three Midwestern graduate occupational therapy programs.

Participants: Occupational therapy students (N = 67).

Outcomes and Measures: Participants completed the Symbolic Ableism Scale (to measure their explicit disability attitudes) and the Disability Attitude Implicit Association Test (to measure their implicit disability attitudes) on an annual basis, from when they entered their occupational therapy program to when they graduated.

Results: The students’ explicit attitudes decreased (i.e., became more favorable) throughout their education; however, their implicit attitudes did not change. In fact, most students (68%) were implicitly ableist at graduation.

Conclusions and Relevance: Occupational therapy education programs have an important role to play in terms of intervening with students’ beliefs and preconceived assumptions about disability. Our finding suggests that occupational therapy programs may fail to intervene with students’ ableist attitudes.

What This Article Adds: Little longitudinal research has examined how students’ implicit disability bias may be affected by their academic experience. Our findings about ableism among occupational therapy students should open the door for further dialogue on the existence of ableism in program content, its potential impact on future client interactions, and the development of approaches to address it.