Journal of Rural Community Psychology, Vol. E3(1), 2000
An Examination of Attitudes Toward Disabilities Among
College Students: Rural and Urban Differences
Glen A. Palmer
Patrick L. Redinius
Raymond C. Tervo
University of South Dakota
The stigma of having a disability often leads to lack of opportunities in areas of employment, socialization, and community integration. Positive attitudes toward persons with disabilities are key to successful integration. Although attitude research has been around since the late 1970’s, little research has been done to compare attitudes between people who live in rural areas and those who live in urban areas. Three instruments were administered to undergraduate and graduate students (N=391) in the Midwest. The purpose of the study was to access rural versus urban differences with respect to the Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons survey (ATDP), the Scale of Attitudes toward Disabled Persons (SADP), and the Rehabilitation Situations Inventory (RSI).
Results of the study indicated that attitudes toward persons with
disabilities between groups were quiet similar despite community size.
All groups had positive attitudes regarding persons with disabilities.
However, significant differences were found based upon community size for
factors labeled "Derogatory Personality Stereotypes" and "Behavioral Misconceptions."
Respondents from smaller communities scored significantly lower on these
two factors. Possible reasons for differences in attitudes are discussed.
During the last twenty years, there have been major trends in service provision for persons with various disabilities. Examples of trends include increased deinstitutionalization for person with developmental disabilities and the movement to provide persons with mental retardation with equal opportunities. Deinstitutionalization was based on the assumption that the quality of life for persons with disabilities can be drastically improved by community placement (Butler & Bjannes, 1977). Prior to deinstitutionalization, few opportunities were available for people to interact with the community, and many institutions were located in rural areas.
Although attempts have been made to increase awareness and sensitivity to persons with disabilities, negative attitudes still persist. As noted in the early 1980’s, the emphasis in this country on personal appearance, productivity, and achievement have contributed to the devaluation and degradation of people with disabilities. Isett, Roszkowski, Spreat, and Reiter (1983) conducted a study on tolerance for deviance in persons with mental retardation. The authors found that certain maladaptive behaviors were more tolerable than others. For instance, physical violence and socially inappropriate behavior (e.g., rumination and pica), were most intolerable. Minor bad habits and deficits in academic skills were perceived as the least intolerable.
As the deinstitutionalization process began to gain momentum in this country, attitude research became more prominent. With the importance of mainstreaming in the public schools and placement of persons with disabilities in the community, the realization was made that persons attitudes toward persons with disabilities are key to successful integration (Wetstein-Kroft & Vargo, 1984). Chubon (1982) referred to this crucial issue as an invisible barrier to rehabilitation. It is also a barrier to employment, integration, and mainstreaming.
Research on attitudes toward persons with disabilities has been done in a variety of areas since the 1980’s. To date, however, there have been no studies comparing attitudes toward disabilities based upon community size. Flaskerud and Kviz (1983) surveyed rural attitudes toward mental health treatment. This survey consisted of only twelve attitudinal items. The results of their survey indicated that persons in rural communities had generally positive attitudes toward mental health treatment.
Darrow and Johnson (1994) assessed junior and senior high school students on attitudes toward persons with disabilities. Their results indicated that persons in senior high had more generally positive attitudes towards persons with different disabilities than junior high students. Royal and Roberts (1987) studied the attitudes of 151 students (grades 3, 6, 9, 12, and college). The researchers found that sixth and twelfth graders were more accepting of persons with disabilities than third graders. They also found that female participants were generally more accepting of disabilities than male participants.
Westbrook, Legge, & Pennay (1993) studied multicultural attitudes toward disability. Their study included 665 health practitioners from several different racial and ethnic groups. One of the results of the study found that people with mental retardation, mental illness, AIDS, and cerebral palsy were the least accepted of a list of twenty disability groups.
Appropriate interpersonal relationships between human service professionals and persons with disabilities are an important part of any treatment plan. However, the attitudes of these human service professionals may negatively impact service delivery. In addition, rural and urban living may provide vastly different experiences when related to persons with disabilities. These experiences have yet to be assessed in great detail. To date, little research has been done with respect to comparing attitudes toward disability between person living in rural areas and those living in urban areas. The purpose of the study is to assess difference sin attitudes toward disability among college students based on size of the home community. The study attempted to determine if there were significantly more positive attitudes toward disability among people who live in urban areas. Because urban areas usually have more access to services for persons with disabilities, it could be expected that students whose home communities are in urban areas might have more positive attitudes toward persons with disabilities than students who reside in rural areas. Many experts promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in areas such as community placement, mainstreaming in the public school systems, and employment. However, this would seem to be more difficult in rural areas where resources may be more limited. One of the expected results of inclusion is to improve the attitudes of individuals toward persons with disabilities (Butler & Bjaanes, 1977; Johnson & Johnson, 1984; Stager and Young, 1981).
Participants for the study were 391 undergraduate and graduate students
in human service professions in the Midwest. The subjects were respondents
from a total of 721 surveys that were distributed to disciplines including
physical therapy, medicine, occupational therapy, nursing, communication
disorders, audiology, counseling/education, school psychology, clinical
psychology, social work, special education, business administration, and
other disciplines. Table 1 provides demographic characteristics of the
Table 1. Demographic Information
|Number of Participants
Counseling / Education
|Size of Home Community
5,000 – 10,000
10,001 – 25,000
25,001 – 50,000
Three measures were used for the purposes of this study. The Attitude Toward Disabled Persons Scale (ATDP) is one instrument that was developed by Yuker, Block,and Younng (1970). This scale takes about five minutes to administer and consists of 20 items pertaining to persons with disabilities. The instrument consists of a 6-point Likert scale. A low score on this instrument indicates that the respondent perceives persons with disabilities as different from normal persons. A high score indicates that the respondent perceives persons with disabilities as similar to those persons without disabilities (Matkin, Hafer, Wright, & Lutzker, 1983).
The scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP) was a second instrument that was incorporated as part of this study. Antonak (1982) reported the development and psychometric analysis of this scale, which contains a 24 item Likert-type items. Results of Antonak’s research indicated that the instrument was reliable (Pearson correlation of .81) and internally consistent (alpha = .88). Higher scores on this instrument indicate more positive attitudes toward persons with disabilities. Lower scores indicate more negative attitudes toward persons with disabilities. Factor analysis of this instrument produced a three-factor solution: Optimism/Human Rights (Factor 1), Behavioral Misconceptions (Factor 2), and Pessimism/Hopelessness (Factor 3). According to Antonak (1982), responses from administration of both the SADP and ATDP produced five factors: Pessimism/Hopelessness (Factor 1), Derogatory Personality Stereotypes (Factor 2), Benevolent Stereotypes (Factor 3), Behavioral Misconceptions (Factor 4), and Optimism/Human Rights (Factor 5). Therefore, scores from these factors were compared as part of the study.
The Rehabilitation Situations Inventory (RSI; Dunn, Umlauf, and Mermis,
1992) was the their instrument incorporated for the purpose of this study.
Dunn, et al. (1992) reported that the inventory is a highly reliable instrument
(Pearson correlation of .88) and internally consistent (alpha=.93). The
instrument was developed to assess respondents’ perceptions of difficult
rehabilitation situations (Dunn, 1996). The RSI contains thirty Likert-type
items to be responded to on a scale of one to five. Higher scores on this
instrument indicate that respondents may have more difficulty with difficult
rehabilitation situations. Lower scores indicate that the respondent will
have less difficulty with difficult rehabilitation situations. Factor analysis
of the inventory produced six factors: Aggression (Factor 1), Sexual Situations
(Factor 2), Staff to Staff interactions (Factor 3), Families (Factor 4),
Depression (Factor 5), and Motivation Adherence (Factor 6) (Dunn, 1996).
Lecturers teaching courses relative to each of the targeted disciplines were asked to distribute surveys to students during the fall semester of 1996. Of 721 surveys distributed, 391 surveys were returned (approximately 54%).
Each survey packet consisted of the RSI, ATDP, SADP, and a demographic sheet in addition to the cover letter. The surveys were collected within one month of the distribution to each discipline.
Surveys were coded by three individuals. The individuals who were responsible for coding the surveys were a graduate student, an undergraduate student, and a training director. Each survey was coded into a data base so that statistical analysis could be done. The statistical package used for the data analysis was the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS, 1994).
All statistics were conducted with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences for Windows, Version 6.1 (SPSS, 1994). The internal reliabilities of the RSI, ATDP, and SADP were computed as an initial step of the analysis. The alpha coefficient was determined for each instrument. Internal consistency of the 30 items of the RSI was very strong (alpha - .91). The internal consistency of the ATDP was moderate (alpha=.78). The internal consistency of the SADP was very strong (alpha=.88).
Comparisons of instrument scores
A series of one-way ANOVA’s were conducted to determine if significant differences were found between genders. Analysis was done with respect to gender on the ATDP, SADP, and RSI. On the ATDP, the effect of gender was not statistically significant , F (1,389) = 2.72, p = .10. The effect of gender was not statistically significant on the SADP, F (1,389) = .175, p = .19. On the RSI, the effect of gender was not statistically significant, F (1,389) = .18, p = .67.
An analysis of variance was conducted on scores of the three instruments based upon community size. On the RSI, there were no significant differences between the scores based upon community sizes, F (5,385) = 1.08, p = .37. The effect of community size based upon ATDP totals was not statistically significant F (5,385) = 1.68, p = .14. No significant effect was found on SADP scores based upon community size F (5,385) = 1.12, p = .35.
Respondent scores were compared on three factors of the SADP. On the factor labeled Optimism/Human Rights (Factor 1), no significant effects were noted F (5,385) = 85, p = .51. On the factor labeled Behavioral Misconceptions (Factor 2), differences between groups approached significance F (5,385) = 2.13, p = .06. On the factor labeled Pessimism/Hopelessness (Factor 3), results again were not significant F (5,385) = .27, p = .87.
Respondent scores were next compared with the combination of the SADP
and ATDP. Differences in group scores on the factor labeled Pessimism/Hopelessness
(Factor 1) were not significant F (5,385) = .14, p = .98.
Derogatory Personality Stereotypes (Factor 2) was significantly different
between groups F (5,385) = 2.21, p < .05. Responses from
the group whose home communities were less than 5,000 were significantly
lower than three of the other groups (see Table 2).
Table 2. Means and Standard Deviations for Participants Totals
on the ATDP, SADP, and RSI
|ATDP Total||88.27 (10.20)||91.78 (11.42)||89.49 (10.80)||91.90 (10.03)||90.67 (9.41)||92.06 (9.38)|
|SADP Total||113.66 (14.81)||117.16 (14.76)||112.87 (15.18)||117.95 (16.58)||117.46 (14.73)||116.24 (13.56)|
29.98 (4.58) a
52.40 (7.70) a
34.48 (5.00) a
30.29 (4.73) a
50.10 (8.08) a
32.32 (4.63) a
29.94 (4.47) a
53.00 (8.21) a
34.60 (5.38) a
30.35 (4.92) a
51.45 (7.47) a
34.39 (5.31) a
30.81 (4.02) a
51.37 (7.07) a
33.76 (4.64) a
30.42 (4.27) a
30.14 (4.23) a
45.73 (6.79) a
17.24 (2.87) a
28.35 (4.72) a
28..34 (4.36) a
30.41 (4.62) a
17.84 (3.19) a
29.63 (4.71) a
30.18 (4.24) a
18.02 (2.50) a
27.82 (4.27) a
27.75 (4.50) a
30.40 (4.75) a
17.50 (2.46) a
30.15 (4.55) a
30.59 (3.67) a
18.03 (2.47) a
28.88 (4.61) a
30.49 (3.93) a
17.61 (2.77) a
29.08 (4.55) a
|RSI Total||87.24 (16.51)||83.67 (16.90)||90.30 (15.22)||86.00 (15.76)||89.81 (16.31)||89.78 (16.40)|
17.62 (4.30) a
13.36 (3.64) a
13.15 (2.69) a
13.49 (2.40) a
8.37 (2.40) a
18.89 (4.62) a
17.41 (4.67) a
12.51 (4.33) a
12.58 (2.99) a
12.73 (2.78) a
7.67 (2.48) a
20.35 (3.61) a
17.67 (4.08) a
12.92 (3.51) a
13.18 (2.29) a
14.58 (3.03) a
8.90 (2.35) a
20.35 (3.61) a
17.29 (3.13) a
11.10 (3.54) a
12.36 (2.42) a
13.83 (2.73) a
8.36 (2.95) a
18.68 (5.08) a
18.04 (3.56) a
13.70 (3.38) a
13.29 (3.13) a
14.16 (2.30) a
8.65 (2.43) a
19.35 (4.77) a
17.68 (4.18) a
13.21 (3.48) a
13.55 (2.72) a
14.02 (2.75) a
8.94 (2.69) a
19.83 (4.72) a
Note: Groups are defined by community size as follows:
Grp. 1 = <5,000; Grp. 2 = 5,001 -10,000; Grp. 3 = 10,001 - 25,000; Grp.
4 = 25,001 - 50,000; Grp. 5 = 50,001 - 100,000 and Grp. 6 = 100,000+. Different
superscript letters denote significant differences between row means at
p<.05; same superscript letters indicate the row means were not
significant at the p<.05 level.
An ANOVA conducted with the factor labeled Benevolent Social Stereotypes (Factor 3) was not significant F (5,385) = 1.13, p < .35. Results were significant between groups on the factor labeled Behavioral Misconceptions (Factor 4), F (5,385) = 2.36, p < .05 (See Table 2). No significant differences were found between groups for the factor labeled Optimism/human rights (Factor 5).
A series of post hoc analyses were conducted with each of the three instruments. An ANOVA was conducted comparing RSI, ADTP, and SADP scores based upon community size of less than 5,000, versus community size greater than 5,000. The effect of community size on the ADTP was found to be significant, F (1,389) = .47, p = .49. On the SADP, the effect of community size was not significant, F (1,389) = 2.40, p = .12.
Factor scores on the ADTP and SADP were then compared with respect to
respondents from home communities of less than 5,000 versus communities
fo greater than 5,000. One-way ANOVA’s were conducted with respect to each
of the 5 factors. Significant effects were noted on three factors. A significant
effect of community size was found on a factor labeled "Behavioral Misconceptions,"
F (1,389) = 3.86, p < .05. The effect of community size
base upon the factor labeled "Derogatory Personality Stereotypes" was also
found to be significant, F (1,389) = 7.50, p <
.05. The effect of community size on the factor labeled "Benevolent Social
Stereotypes" was significant, F (1,389) = 4.43, p < .05.
The results suggest that there are some differences between attitudes toward disability based upon community sizes. It was expected that persons who come from urban areas had significantly more positive attitudes than those individuals who have home communities in rural areas. The rationale for this hypothesis was that individuals in urgan areas might have broader exposure to persons with disabilities than persons who lived in rural areas and therefor have more positive views toward persons with disabilities.
Responses were significantly lower on the factors labeled Derogatory Personality Stereotypes (Factor 2 of the SADP/ATDP combined scales) and Behavioral Misconceptions (Factor 4 of the SADP/ATDP combined scales) for individuals from communities of less than 5,000. Derogatory Personality Stereotypes can be described as attitudes that support a negative view of the personality of persons with disabilities. This attitude suggests that people with disabilities are unhappy, depressed, hypersensitive, and grouchy (Antonak, 1982). Respondents whose home communities were large were less likely to agree with items related to this factor. Behavioral Misconceptions consist of items that address the capabilities of persons with disabilities and their impact on others. Persons from group 5 (communities of 50,001 – 100,000) were less likely to agree with items on this factor than persons from groups 1 (less than 5,000) and 3 (10,001-25,000).
Totals on the three instruments were not significantly different between groups in most areas. One possible explanation for these results may be that rural areas have substantial exposure to persons with disabilities. This could be due to laws over the past decade requiring equal access for all persons. Provision of services for children in the home public school allows interaction for persons with disabilities (Johnson & Johnson, 1984; Stager and Young, 1981). However, there is research to indicate that mere exposure to persons with disabilities does not necessarily improve attitudes (Weisel, 1988). Most likely, attitude change requires a multidimensional approach to training. Therefore, there might be similar attitudes towards persons with disabilities despite various different life experiences. There were no significant differences between genders noted. When groups 2-6 were combined and compared with respondents whose home community was less than 5,000, there were significant differences in attitude scores on the ATDP based upon if an individual’s home community is less than 5,000 people versus a town of greater than a population of 5,000. People from home communities of more than 5,000 people had significantly higher scores on this instrument than individuals who came from home communities of under 5,000. People from home communities of more than 5,000 people had significantly higher scores on this instrument than individuals who came from home communities of under 5,000. One possible explanation for this difference on the ATDP as opposed to other scales could be that the ADTP appears to be a multidimensional scale. Therefore, it may be measuring other criteria in addition to attitudes. As in the previous analyses, scores of the factors labeled "Derogatory Personality Stereotypes" and Behavioral Misconceptions" were significantly lower in the group from home communities of less than 5,000. In addition, the factor labeled "Benevolent Social Stereotypes" was significantly lower in communities of less than five thousand.
There were several limitations to the study. First, only college students at one university were involved. Therefore the generalizability of the results is limited. The study included mostly undergraduate and graduate students in human service professions. Because many of the participants were in human service professions, it could be expected that most of these individuals would likely have more positive attitudes toward persons with disabilities than with other disciplines.
Another limitation of the study is that 92.1% of the participants were Caucasian. Therefore significant differences across cultures could not be explored. Differences between disciplines could not be determined due to the small amount of representations by certain disciplines.
Trends towards attitudes research are beginning to move in many different
directions. Possibly the most interesting and promising direction that
this topic is taking is with regard to randomized response technique. As
pointed out by Antonak and Livneh (1995), the use of direct methods to
assess attitudes can result in many confounding factors, especially if
the topic is controversial, sensitive, or highly personal. Such confounding
factors might include respondent sensitization, response styles, and reactivity.
Therefore, random response technique provides indirect methods of exploring
attitudes toward disability.
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