Youth Leadership for Changing Attitudes Towards People with Disabilities: Changing Attitudes and Self-Image, Cohen, R., Roth, D., York, A. (2008). Social Security, 78, 101-126.
About the article
Beit Issie Shapiro is a non-profit organization in the field of disabilities that also operates at the community level, and sees changing attitudes as part of the process of social change. The organization runs an intervention program among young people, aimed at changing their attitudes towards people with disabilities. The article presents the main findings of a study examining the impact of the program.
People with disabilities are considered to be a socially excluded population.
Despite the improvement in recent years in society’s attitude towards people with disabilities, most of them still suffer from a negative social image, and are usually seen by the general public as being unable to work, in need of charity, and inferior. Full acceptance of people with disabilities, and their active and meaningful participation in society, will not be possible until the obstacles holding this process back are removed. The attitudes of professionals, parents, employers, peer groups, neighbors, and people with disabilities themselves are a basic component of these obstacles.
In order to prevent the development of social exclusion it is necessary to change the attitude of the public towards different groups.
An attitude is actually the way we approach something: a person, action, group, concept, object, and so on. Children’s attitudes towards children with disabilities are already formed by the age of four or five.
A prejudice is an opinion about a social group that is not based on facts, assigning a person to a group with certain qualities and behaviors. This attribution is liable to ignore personal differences, and labels the group.
A stigma is a negative mark or quality ascribed to the social image of an individual or a group, with a powerful social impact. For the most part it defines the status of the person to whom it is ascribed as being of lesser value.
Approaches to changing attitudes
There are two main approaches to changing attitudes:
It is reasonable to assume that intervention that combines these two approaches will be successful, and will contribute to a positive change in attitudes; extended contact provides exposure to and recognition of the abilities of the person with disabilities, and knowledge is likely to reduce anxiety, prejudice, negative judgement and even over-protectiveness.
The intervention program
Research shows that it is important to change the attitudes of young people towards people with disabilities because in the near future, within just a few years, they will be in a position to influence the lives of people with disabilities.
Beit Issie Shapiro has developed the “Chen program: youth leadership as a lever for changing attitudes towards people with disabilities”. The aim of the program is to develop young leaders who will undertake action in order to change attitudes towards people with disabilities among their friends at school and in the community.
The program takes place over a school year, coordinated by a professional from the field of social work or education, and is held across the country.
During the first part of the year, the leadership group participates in workshops that provide broad information about the field of disabilities. In the next stage, the members of the group begin volunteer activities that allow first-hand contacts between the leadership group and the group of people with disabilities. Towards the end of the year, the members of the leadership group pass on the knowledge they have acquired in the workshops and in their volunteer activities to other students at their schools.
Among the subjects of the workshops are:
The program was accompanied by a study examining its impact on changing the attitudes of young people towards people with disabilities. The research also examined a control group (young people who did not participate in the program) in order to ensure that the source of the change was the intervention program.
The main findings of the research
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