4. Attitude change
4.1. Attitude formation and motives for change
Attitudes are directly influenced through questioning, personal experience and positive or negative reinforcement (Fossey, 1993; Sdorow, 1990, cited by Eby et al, 1998). Attitudes are indirectly influenced through social learning and observation or by learning through association (Fossey, 1993; Sdorow, 1990 cited by Eby et al, 1998).
The role of direct experience may be particularly important in attitude formation. Positive effects of contact have been demonstrated in many domains including attitudes towards the elderly, psychiatric patients and children with disability (Hewstone, 2003 citing Hewstone, 1996; Pettigrew, 1998 and Pettigrew et al, 2000).Attitudes formed through direct experience may be better predictors of later behaviour than attitudes formed through indirect experience. The superior predictive power of attitudes formed through direct experience is not necessarily a function of the amount of information about the attitude object available to the individual (Fazio et al, 1978 cited by Eby et al, 1998). Direct experience may affect the attitude formation process by altering the way in which available information is processed.
Hewstone (2003) attempts to answer how direct contact between groups work in changing attitudes and diminishing or banishing prejudices. He cites Pettigrew (1998) who proposes four major potential mechanisms: 1) learning about the other group, the "out group" 2) behaviour-driven attitude change e.g. forming more positive attitudes after cooperating in a learning task 3) "in-group" reappraisal and 4) generating affective ties. It is generating affective ties, including the formation of close friendships that seems to be most effective in reducing prejudice.
Direct contact is discussed further in the next section. Deal (2006) found that the contact hypothesis was not supported by his research on attitudes of people with disabilities to other people with disabilities and diverse functional impairments. However, he suggests that whether the contact between people with disabilities is voluntary or involuntary may be a significant variable.
Research has shown that the effects of attitude change depend on a host of individual and situational factors (Petty et al, 1998). A range of factors produces attitude change by different processes in different situations. There are multiple specific processes that can determine the extent and direction of attitude change (Petty et al, 1998). Based on the research evidence, Petty et al (1998) consider it useful to divide the processes responsible for modifying attitudes into those that emphasise effortful thinking about the main merits of the attitude object from those that do not. Such a framework allows understanding and prediction of the variables which will affect attitudes, by what processes in what situations and the consequences of these attitudes.
Attitudes that are changed as a result of considerable mental effort tend to be stronger than those changed with little thought and are more predictive of behaviour. Such attitudes are also more persistent and resistant to counter-persuasion than attitudes that are changed by processes involving little mental effort in assessing the main merits of the attitude object (Petty et al, 1998). Petty et al consider it useful to regard attitudes as falling along a continuum ranging from non-attitudes (see Converse, 1970) to strong attitudes (Fazio, 1986).
When studying interventions to tackle negative attitudes and their consequences the motives that generate attitude change and resistance are important. Wood (2000) reviewed the literature, focussing on the 2-year period from 1996 -1998 and found three central motives involved in attitude change. These involved 1) concerns with the self and with others 2) with the rewards/punishments they can provide and 3) with a valid understanding of reality.
4.2. The Contact Hypothesis
As mentioned above direct experience can be important in attitude formation. Allport (1954) in his classic volume, The Nature of Prejudice, expounded the contact hypothesis for future generations of policy makers and social psychologists (Hewstone, 2003). Yuker (1988) cited by Rao (2004) considered that attitudes to disability are complex and multifaceted and that the attitudinal consequences of contact with people with disabilities are mediated by the characteristics of both the person with a disability and without a disability and the nature of the interaction between the two.
Hewstone (2003), based on research evidence, outlines five key, facilitating conditions under which members of two "groups" should be brought together
- Under conditions of equal status
- In situations where stereotypes are likely to be disproved
- Where inter-group cooperation is required
- Where participants can get to know each other properly
- Where wider social norms support equality.
Hewstone (2003) argues that successful inter-group contact promotes more positive "out-group" attitudes, increases the perceived variability of the "out-group", which now appears less homogenous and inter-group contact can also promote increased "outgroup" trust. Hewstone (2003) demonstrates from research that contact works, how it works and when it works. Antonak (1981) showed that the most influential factor in the attitudinal scores in his study was the intensity of contact with people with disabilities. "Where there is evidence on what changes attitudes, it centres on the impact of contact between disabled and non-disabled people. This seems to work more than any other method - more, for example, than big communications campaigns. However, contact must be on at least equal terms" (Massie, 2006 citing Hewstone, 2003). "Contact on equal terms can also be achieved through training, and evidence shows that training led by, for example, people with mental health problems, impacts on attitudes and that this change is sustained over time" (Massie, 2006 citing Employers Forum on Disability Equal Opportunities Review, 2005).
Wai Au et al (2006) compared attitudes of students (n=511) and four groups of health professionals (n=489) toward people with disabilities using an international attitude scale. The quality of contact was found to be a dominant factor affecting the attitude scores. In addition, significant factors in determining the attitudes held by students and professionals include age, year of study, knowledge and educational level. Wai Au et al (2006) cite other studies including Gelber (1993) and Elmaleh (2000) that also found that contact and knowledge factors influence the development of positive attitudes towards people with disabilities.
4.3. Disability awareness training, knowledge and understanding
Gleeson (2006) describes how, in a "Making Access Happen" training programme for librarians, the participants, including herself, the mother of a child with a disability, after naming several different factors which cause people with disabilities to be excluded, finally acknowledged and were shocked that they themselves did not consider disabled people to be normal. However, this allowed them to change: "Now we were able to see and discuss how social structures reflect individual thinking and how individual thinking is shaped by social structures in any given society at any given time. This unconscious thinking about 'normal' and 'not normal' was brought to the surface through the training approach without blame or guilt because the discussion clarified that the individual and society are intimately connected to the socialisation process from when we are very small children. Participants very quickly moved to being able to identify ways in which society and libraries are designed, constructed and 'programmed' out of 'normal' thinking" (Gleeson, 2006).
"Those promoting disability awareness should understand that most people, if challenged, would deny that they treat disabled people unfairly. They will usually express considerable goodwill towards a group they tend to regard as unfortunate victims who are, sadly, disadvantaged. However, this sympathy and goodwill often conceals a deep reluctance to accept disabled people on equal terms. This is often based on unquestioned, deeply held negative assumptions or stereotypes" (http://www.realising-potential.org).
Shevlin and Moore (1999) showed how a mainstream school in Ireland facilitated interaction between profoundly intellectually disabled young people and a group of adolescents from the school who were uneasy around peers with intellectual disabilities. The results were that the adolescents became more comfortable with their disabled counterparts. By facilitating this interaction, the mainstream school that the able bodied young people attended was fostered inclusion and the development of respect for and recognition of different abilities (cited by Lodge et al, 2004, p. 97).
How disability awareness training is carried out is important and its impact must be evaluated. Gash (1996) cited by NDA (2004) reported on an educational programme designed to increase awareness of children with disabilities amongst primary school children in Ireland. The results were mixed. On the one hand, the programme encouraged children to treat children with disabilities in a "more ordinary" way. On the other hand, some children "hardened" their attitudes, even becoming dismissive of children with disabilities.
Disability Awareness Training and Education is required for all professionals. Mukerherjee et al (2000) as cited by Lodge et al (2004) point out that teachers need to have a full understanding of the implications of particular impairments for teaching and learning if the are to inform other students or supports students with impairments. The Task Force on Autism (2001) made similar observations with respect to the education of students with Autistic Syndrome Disorder. The Task Force on Dyslexia (2001) observed that teachers often failed either to identify or fully recognise a learner's disability or have an inadequate understanding of it (cited by Lodge et al, 2004). Rao (2004) reviewed the literature with regards the attitudes of university staff towards students with disabilities in higher education. Only two studies investigated the relationship between attitudes of staff and willingness to provide accommodations and the results of these studies did not show a clear relationship between the two but this is an area that needs further exploration. Rao concludes from the literature that faculty need to be better informed about students with disabilities to improve their attitudes and that the attitudes of staff could be a vital ingredient in the success or failure of students with disabilities.
Rohland et al (2003) report on a collaborative training Project at the University of Rhode Island in the Sather primary goal was to work with faculty and administrators at the State's post-secondary institutions to develop more inclusive and supportive learning environments for students with disabilities. This project aimed to prepare at least one faculty member in each academic department and one administrator in each administrative unit to serve as a disability resource mentor to colleagues and as a liaison to Disability Services. In this way a multi-institutional network of disability resource mentors throughout the State would be developed. The project included a 4day workshop for the mentors that included exploring attitudes and active involvement in identifying how students with disabilities could be assisted to meet department and programme requirements. Mentors were given a resource manual and a resource website was also established. Each mentor then worked within their own unit with their colleagues. One of the assumptions underlying this approach is that departmental colleagues respect one another and therefore can be very influential in the process of changing attitudes. The immediate effectiveness of the training for participants as well as the long-term effect of the training on the postsecondary learning environment was evaluated. Long-term impact on the post secondary environment included policy changes and improved communication.
4.4. Remove obstacles to achieving human potential
Negative public and social attitudes are major obstacles to accessing the basic conditions required to achieve human potential because they develop, reinforce and solidify socio-environmental barriers to participation in work and other mainstream activities (Clarke et al, 2000 cited by Brostrand, 2006).
The basic conditions required for each person to develop their potential and to live as responsible, autonomous individuals are basic human rights. Understanding and promoting the values underpinning basic rights or the basic human conditions required for development - equality, autonomy, dignity and solidarity/social justice - is essential if governments and individuals are to commit themselves to ensuring that each and every person can access the conditions required to live as self-determining individuals.
The values underpinning human rights or the basic conditions required to fulfil human potential in each setting, be it the home, the school, the workplace or the wider society, need to be promoted. Quinn et al (2002) define the values of equality, autonomy/selfdetermination, dignity and social justice that underpin human rights as follows: Equality - the imposition of benefits or burdens, and the process of setting the terms of entry and participation in the mainstream, are to be set with all equally in mind, which may require accommodation towards some.Autonomy/self-determination - all persons are ends and not means to ends and can freely choose their own ends in life3. Dignity - every human being is of inestimable value regardless of difference. Social justice/ Solidarity - we owe something to one another in society in order to help people realise their self-fulfilment.
Morris (2005) outlines some of the development of thinking with regards these values such as the need to re-define self-determination to include situations where people need support to exercise autonomy.
- A need for support does not mean that someone cannot experience self-determination
- In order for people with disabilities to have equal opportunities to be full citizens, it is necessary to take action to remove barriers to self-determination, and, for some people with disabilities, it will be necessary to use resources to support self-determination
- The action to be taken must be determined by people with disabilities themselves.
Included implicitly in each of the values that underpin human rights is the value of difference. For people with disabilities to have equal opportunities, to participate and to contribute as equal citizens "we need a society where difference does not mean you cannot belong but where instead our common humanity is recognised and valued. We will all benefit if everyone can achieve their potential through participation and maximising their participation within and contribution to families, communities and society" (Morris, 2005). Diversity needs to be addressed in a wide variety of settings including educational curricula. The public have an important role to play in welcoming diversity as an integral, important and enriching part of society. According to Massie (2006) it is the recognition of difference that makes the ADA legislation in the USA crucially different from other forms of anti-discrimination law." The Act's approach is to recognise that equality is not about treating everyone in the same way. It is about responding to different needs in the different ways that best suit them. The DDA is not about equal treatment, because to treat everyone the same is to ignore their essential differences with the perverse effect of creating or sustaining inequality. It can take different treatment to provide equal opportunities." To open up opportunities for all on an equal basis, differences need to be systematically taken into account and catered for. There needs to be an active acceptance, welcoming and accommodation of difference/ diversity rather than its' avoidance, elimination or denial.
 The overall mean score of respondents was comparatively lower than that of their counterparts in other countries. Professionals had a significantly higher attitudinal score than students.Among the health professionals, nurses held the least favourable attitudes towards people with disabilities. In addition, the nurses’ attitudes were less positive to those of the student nurses.The occupational therapists and occupational therapy students had mean scores above the overall average.