Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

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

By M. Clare Taylor


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:

Suggested articles


  1. (1992). A Charter for Disabled people Using Hospitals. London: Royal College of Physicians of London.
  2. (1996). A sociology of disability or a disablist sociology? '. In
  3. (1988). Advocacy in word as well as deed'. doi
  4. (1978). Affirmative action for the physically disabled in social work education'. doi
  5. (1992). Americans have a shared vision: occupational therapists can help create the future reality'. doi
  6. (1993). An international overview of resource centers on disability'. doi
  7. (1993). Attitudes don't just hang in the air ... ': disabled people's perceptions of physiotherapists'. doi
  8. (1979). Attitudes of college students toward sexual behavior of disabled persons'.
  9. (1960). Attitudes towards rehabilitation of the disabled'.
  10. (1991). Career attitudes and work values of groups of occupational therapy students: a replication and an extension'. doi
  11. (1989). Change of values during socialization for a profession: an application of the marginal man theory'. doi
  12. (1993). Comm un ity-based rehabilitation: does it change community attitudes towards people with disability? '. doi
  13. (1996). Connecting with patients: the personal experience of professional helping'. doi
  14. (1968). Contact as a variable in the perception of disability'. doi
  15. (1980). Creative caring. doi
  16. (1988). Current basis for theory and philosophy of I occupational therapy. In
  17. (1996). Disability models... or muddles? '.
  18. (1981). Disability, adjustment and family life - some theoretical considerations'. In
  19. (1994). Disability, stigma and deviance'. doi
  20. (1994). Disabled in Britain: A World Apart.
  21. (1993). Disabling Barriers - Enabling Environments. doi
  22. (1978). Disabling Professions. doi
  23. (1991). Do attitudes towards persons with handicaps really shift over time? Comparison between 1975 and
  24. (1992). Does she boils eggs? towards a feminist model of disability'. doi
  25. (1998). Dreams, decisions and directiond for occupational therapy .
  26. (1994). Dreams, dilemmas, & decisions for occupational therapy practice in a new millennium: a Canadian perspective'. doi
  27. (1988). Effects of contact on thoughts about interaction with students who have a physical disability'.
  28. (1980). Empathy levels of occupational therapy students'. doi
  29. (1998). Empowering health in chronic illness: a conceptual model',
  30. (1994). Empowerment & enablement: Occupational therapy doi
  31. (1993). Empowerment in rehabilitation: An empowerment philosophy for rehabilitation in the 20th century. '
  32. (1965). Ethnocentrism and attitudes towards the physically disabled'. doi
  33. (1993). Feminism & Disability. doi
  34. (1993). From curing or caring to defining disabled people I. In
  35. (1979). From Student to Nurse, Cambridge: doi
  36. (1986). Health professionals as contributors to attitudes towards persons with disabilities'.
  37. (1986). Independent living and the medical model of disability'. doi
  38. (1986). is integrating the handicapped psychologically defensible?
  39. (1986). Liberal arts: the foundation for occupational therapy education'. doi
  40. (1980). Measures of regular classroom teachers' attitudes towards handicapped children'.
  41. (1991). Medical students' attitudes towards ageing and death'. doi
  42. (1989). Mental handicap and oppression'. doi
  43. (1990). More attention should be paid to the formation of attitudes in doctors'. doi
  44. (1993). New disability services: the critical role of staff in a consumer-directed empowerment model'. doi
  45. (1981). Nurse practitioners: issues in professional socializationo. doi
  46. (1991). Nursing education & definition of the professional nurse role. Expectations and knowledge of the nurse role'. doi
  47. (1987). Nursing education and professional role acquisition - theoretical perspectives'. doi
  48. (1987). Nursing education and professional role acquisition. A longitudinal study of expectations and attitudes towards nurse role acquisition'. doi
  49. (1993). Occupational science: a new source of power for participants in occupational therapy'. doi
  50. (1987). Occupational therapy graduate education: the scientist-practitioner model'. doi
  51. (1995). Occupational therapy: a critical overview, part 1'. doi
  52. (1989). Parent-perceived attitudes of professionals: Implications for service providers'. doi
  53. (1989). Perception of disability labels: effect of attitude stimulus presentation'. doi
  54. (1972). Personal development & occupational therapy'.
  55. (1990). Physical disability, stigma, and rehabilitation'.
  56. (1981). Professional ized service and disabling help'. In
  57. (1975). Professional socialisation as subjective experience: the process of doctrinal conversion among student nurses'.
  58. (1988). Professional/client relationships: creating a 'working alliance'with people with learning difficulties'. doi
  59. (1996). Qualitative Researching. doi
  60. (1994). Reflections on client-therapist relationships'. doi
  61. (1981). Rehabilitation service providers: their attitudes towards people with physical disabilities, and their attitudes towards each other'. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin,
  62. (1980). Role-model concepts before and after the formal professional socialization period'.
  63. (1991). So, who wants to be normal? doi
  64. (1984). Society's reaction to the disabled: a problem of accessibility'.
  65. (1988). Stars are born; an interpretive approach to the politics of disability'. doi
  66. (1991). Student evaluations and faculty members with a disability'. doi
  67. (1984). Student nurses' construction of occupational socialisationi. doi
  68. (1972). Teacher attitudes associated with the integration of handicapped children'.
  69. (1982). Terminal and instrumental values of beginning occupational therapy students'. doi
  70. (1990). The assessment of therapeutic attitudes in the psychiatric setting'. doi
  71. (1991). The caring attitudes in nursing practice'. doi
  72. (1994). The concept of therapeutic 'emplotment". doi
  73. (1998). The Disability Reader. - Social Science Perspectives.
  74. (1969). The educational process'.
  75. (1992). The effect of social contact on college teachers' attitudes toward students with severe mental handicaps and their educational integration'. doi
  76. (1967). The evolution of the professionall.
  77. (1996). The influence of Fieldwork on the professional socialisation of occupational therapy students'. doi
  78. (1988). The Issues in Disability Scale: A new cognitive and affective measure of attitudes towards people with physical disabilities,
  79. (1980). The language of disablement: a glossary relating to disease and its consequences'. doi
  80. (1988). The politics of physical differences: disability and discrimination'. doi
  81. (1978). The professional values and expectations of medical students'. doi
  82. (1994). Uneasy alliances'.
  83. (1990). Values influencing clinical reasoning: an exploratory study'. doi
  84. (1989). Whose 'ordinary life' is it anyway? doi
  85. (1986). Work related issues in occupational therapy: your values do count'. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.