Sunday, 19 February 2012

How do others in the Australian community see people with disabilities?

The Australian Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) has released a report it commissioned on Community attitudes to people with disability.
"... It was an initial step towards building an evidence base on Australian community attitudes to people with disability, on the impact of these attitudes on outcomes for people with disability and on effective policies for improving community attitudes towards them."

An extract from the Executive Summary:

The literature review investigated the following aspects of community attitudes to people with disability: 
  • community attitudes towards people with disability in general and towards specific groups of people;
  • the relationship between attitudes and the outcomes for people with disability; 
  • the effect of these attitudes on people’s inclusion in specific life domains and attitudes held by groups of people in these domains (education, employment, housing, health, social networks and corrective services); 
  • and initiatives for changing attitudes.

The review found a lot of information about both attitudes and outcomes, but very little about the relationship between the two. Younger people and people with more education tend to have more positive attitudes. It seems clear that negative attitudes, along with misconceptions and lack of awareness, present barriers to social inclusion in various life domains such as education, employment and community participation. Lack of knowledge or training among professionals can make people’s access to services difficult. Familiarity with people with disability—that is, knowing them personally as acquaintances, friends and colleagues—seems the most promising way to increase respect and inclusion, especially if exposure is consistent and recent.

The literature about community attitudes towards specific groups of people with disability indicates that women seem to be more disadvantaged, particularly in the workforce, compared to men, and that people without disability were less comfortable with people with psychiatric disability than with those with physical disability.

This review uncovered little research on links between attitudes and outcomes for people with disability. One study in the US found that lower wage rates for men with physical disability were probably partly a result of prejudice.

In relation to the effect of community attitudes on education, the literature review found that negative attitudes among both teachers and student peers constitute a barrier to inclusive education. Special training for teachers helps to combat these negative attitudes. Some teachers are reluctant to include students with disability in their classrooms, while others are in favour of including students with disability but need training and support to make this possible.

In relation to employment, this review found that negative attitudes and misconceptions among employers prove an important barrier to inclusion, as does the general tendency in society to equate social recognition with paid employment. Many employers feel ill-prepared to employ people with disability, especially those with a mental illness, although they are more ready to support current employees who acquire a disability.

Regarding housing, the attitudes of staff in supported accommodation and of neighbours living close to supported housing can influence the extent to which people with disability participate in the community, rather than simply being physically present.

In the area of health, this review found that negative attitudes can make people’s access to treatment, preventive screening and health promotion difficult. Health professionals sometimes lack training and awareness about disability; for example, they may not know about the physical and mental health needs of people with intellectual disability.

In the case of social networks, studies showed that social inclusion in the community requires active support to establish and maintain connections with family, friends, carers and community members. Informal carers’ attitudes towards the people with disability they care for can vary widely.

Finally, corrective services were included in the literature review because research suggests that people with intellectual and psychiatric disability are over-represented among the prison population. The extent to which this over-representation is an outcome of negative attitudes is unknown.

Changing community attitudes towards disability requires complementary methods, including information and extended personal contact. Policies for changing attitudes are reviewed in Sections 4–7 of this report.

Click here to download the full text of the report (112 pages).

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