The effects of a manualised disability awareness training programme on the attitudes and empathy of year 8 school students : a pre-post test design.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
A truly inclusive society embraces human diversity. Negative attitudes represent a barrier to full social inclusion and the equal rights and participation of minority groups, including people with disabilties. Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to negative peer attitudes, which may result in them feeling excluded and alienated in the school environment. Research has linked empathy to pro-social behaviour, and has suggested it as a mediator between direct intergroup contact and positive attitude outcomes. Within a geographically localised, general intermediate (years 7 and 8) school setting, this study aimed to evaluate the effects of a manualised disability awareness programme on children’s empathy and attitudes towards peers with disabilities. Participants were New Zealand students aged 11-13 years from four classes within two Christchurch intermediate schools, and comprised an intervention group (n = 89) and waitlist control group (n = 30). Self-report measures were employed, in a pre-post design with nine week follow up. The intervention incorporated multiple components including direct contact with an adult with a disability as programme facilitator. Results showed no significant difference in children’s empathy and attitudes at baseline or post-test between intervention groups. Significant attitude improvement was evident for a sub-group of high academic achievers. A significant moderate correlation was also demonstrated between attitude and empathy. Possible causes for a lack of overall effect were discussed, as well as implications for future programme implementation. Future research should continue to explore the programme elements of manualised disability awareness interventions to determine best practice in relation to improving attitudes towards peers with disabilities and promoting full social inclusion. Further investigation into the relationship between children’s empathy and attitudes is also recommended.