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Chapter 7

Chapter 7. Interventions to Reduce Prejudice

Over the past 30 years, there have been numerous approaches to reducing prejudice toward disabled people. Some have had minimal effects while others have worsened stigma and discrimination. Chapter 7 provides a comprehensive review of interventions designed to improve understanding or reduce negative disability attitudes and other misinformed reactions. Much anti-prejudice research has focused on interventions to increase contact with minority groups under the assumption that friendly interactions will produce more equitable outcomes. Chapter 7 describes the considerable evidence from longitudinal, experimental, and field studies showing when intergroup contact is most effective, and how interactions depend on institutionally supported, cooperative, and equal status exchanges (Pettigrew and Tropp 2008). Longitudinal studies have found that nondisabled children who participate in cooperative exchange programs with disabled peers form more complex impressions about disability, and rate peers as more attractive than those who were not part of the inclusion program (Maras and Brown 1996). Nevertheless, increased access to higher education, employment, and public spaces may be more important than friendship when it comes to creating the optimal conditions for contact between groups on an equal status basis (Chapter 8).

Other approaches to prejudice reduction include diversity training and programs that deemphasize disability or treat it as but one, value-neutral aspect of human diversity (Björk 2009). Unfortunately, many of these interventions have time-limited effects and fail to generalize beyond the specific intervention context (Brown 2011), particularly if focused on de-categorizing individuals (e.g. “I don’t even think of you as disabled”). Thus, students may learn to like disabled peers at school but this may not translate to inviting them to the house or to gathering with other disabled people with whom they have never met. This chapter also summarizes the factors that contribute to generalization of respectful attitudes beyond the intervention setting, and identifies the benefits and limitations of different program types, comparing the effectiveness of initiatives that minimize disability status (colorblind approaches) to those that keep disability-categorization salient (multicultural approaches).

Finally, interventions designed to induce empathy and perspective taking by attempting to simulate the disability experience are also described. These popular interventions include wearing blindfolds or ear plugs to simulate sensory impairments or using wheelchairs to enable a “more direct understanding” of physical disabilities. Yet, such programs consistently fail to improve disability attitudes, and can make people feel helpless, confused, and more vulnerable to disability themselves (Nario-Redmond et al. 2017); some even became less willing to volunteer for a campus accessibility project. Finally, evaluations comparing between interventions are described along with suggestions for future research designed to promote more egalitarian outcomes, including how increased awareness of pervasive discrimination impacts behavior change.

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