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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Malone

Barriers to Inclusion - PT4

Attitudinal Barriers Toward People with Disabilities

Attitude is the number one barrier to participation of people with disabilities, and often more difficult to spot. There are several types of negative attitudes.

People with disabilities are viewed as inferior. They are not good enough to work alongside their non-disabled peers. They are viewed as second class citizens, not worthy of the same opportunities.

People with disabilities are seen as needy individuals who just take and drain resources.

People can be well-meaning but still have wrong attitudes, such as pity and charity. “Pity, feeling sorry for those with disabilities, and inclinations towards charity, can make a disabled person feel uncomfortable and deprived of the chance to live and work independently.”

Hero worship is similar. It the idea that a person is extraordinary for accomplishing what anyone else does. People consider someone with an impairment who lives independently or pursues a profession to be brave or ‘special’ for overcoming a disability. But most disabled people do not want compliments for performing day-to-day tasks. The individual has simply learned to adapt by using his or her skills and knowledge, just as everybody adapts to being tall, short, strong, fast, etc.

Prejudicial attitudes are prevalent toward people with disabilities. One form is called the Spread Effect, where people treat a disabled person as if their disability has spread to other senses or abilities. For example, shouting at someone who is blind or assuming someone in a wheelchair does not have the intelligence to answer for themselves.

Another stereotypical attitude may be “assuming their quality of life is poor or that they are unhealthy because of their impairments.” These attitudes inaccurate and problematic. In fact, individuals with impairments can, and do, many of the same things as their non-disabled peers. Someone with quadriplegia can drive a car and have children. Someone who is blind can travel independently and be financially self-sufficient.

Attitudinal barriers must be removed for inclusion to happen. Foster a respectful and positive attitude. Use gender, disability, and culturally sensitive language and images. Focus on people’s capabilities, not their disabilities. Start from the assumption that everyone can participate and make their own choices. Ask people about their preferences. For example, most older persons and persons with disabilities live independently and do not need help, others may require assistance. Give people real choices. For example, providing a person with an intellectual disability choices in their daily lives challenges assumptions and creates lasting changes in the way they are treated.

As a rule of thumb: If you are unsure how to behave, ask the person. Anyone will appreciate honesty and genuine interest in their situation and kind of support they might need.

People with disabilities are just people who happen to have an impairment, which may or may not prevent them from doing the things you do. They want to be treated as equals, not something extraordinary or pitied. They want to live, work, and play beside and with you, not separate or below you.

Misguided attitudes are the most significant barriers to inclusiveness. Change may be difficult, but the benefits outweigh the effort. Recognizing and changing beliefs is often a difficult process. Eliminating attitudinal barriers creates an inclusive atmosphere.

Consequently, it is easier to solve problems when the heart and attitude are accurate.

1. Zeske, Mateo. What Are Attitudinal Barriers? Career Trend. [Online] December 14, 2018.

2. CDC. Common Barriers to Participation Experienced by People with Disabilities. Disability and Health. [Online] August 9, 2018.

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