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Occupational therapists : empowerors or oppressors? : a study of occupational therapy students' attitudes towards disabled people

By M. Clare Taylor

Abstract

The aim of the research was to investigate the concepts of, and attitudes\ud towards, people with physical disabilities held by occupational therapy (OT)\ud students, so that a theory of professional attitudes and professional action\ud could be developed. The research was building on previous research by the\ud author, which found that OT students tended to have a maternalistic and\ud nurturing view of disabled people, and also as a response to issues raised by\ud the social model of disability which questioned whether OT was an\ud oppressive or empowering profession. Utilising an integrated methodology,\ud the research sought to address the following research questions:\ud what, amongst OT students, is a 'professional' attitude towards\ud disabled people?\ud are the attitudes of OT students towards disabled people any\ud different from those of other students?\ud do these attitudes change over time?\ud are there any differences in the 'personal' and 'professional'\ud attitudes of OT students towards disabled people?\ud how accepting of disabled people are OT students, would they\ud be willing to work with disabled people as colleagues?\ud is there an hierarchy of relationships for people with different\ud impairments?\ud what does the 'professional' attitude mean in practice?\ud how does this 'professional' attitude develop?\ud what factors influence its development?\ud does contact with disabled people have any effect on attitudes?\ud do OT students express attitudes and values which oppress or\ud empower their disabled clients?\ud A case study approach was used with a variety of data collection methods.\ud The main focus of the study was the collection of data, using a questionnaire\ud and a series of interviews, from a cohort of OT students throughout the 3\ud years of their OT degree. The questionnaire included the Attitudes Towards\ud Disabled People Scale, a suitability for OT training scale, and a semantic\ud differential exploring stereotypes of disabled people. Data were also collected\ud from other groups of OT students comparing personal and professional\ud attitudes and attitudes in terms of social distance, using the Disability Social\ud Distance Scale. Comparative data was collected from non-OT students. In\ud order to explore attitudes in greater depth a small group of students was\ud selected from the main OT cohort and interviewed about their attitudes and\ud approaches to disabled people at 3 points during their studies. Analysis of\ud the data revealed that the OT students held highly positive personal and\ud professional attitudes towards disabled people. These attitudes were also\ud demonstrated by the use of an empowering, client-centred approach to OT\ud interventions. However, the OT students had a tendency to focus on an\ud individualistic and personal tragedy approach to disability. This individualistic\ud approach might result in oppressive practice. The findings were used to\ud develop a conceptual framework for OT interventions with disabled people\ud which should allow therapists to articulate and develop their practice within\ud an empowering framework

Topics: HV, RM
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3997

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