The Influence of Accessibility on Perceptions of People with Disabilities
Prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities can be masked through seemingly benign expressions such as communications of pity and provision of unwanted help. Such forms of paternalism have been theorized to arise in response to social conditions that fail to highlight people’s competencies. Following this logic, the present study assessed how the accessibility of an environment shapes perceptions of competence of, and feelings of pity toward, people with disabilities. Undergraduate students (N= 111) read vignettes that described a person with one of three disabilities (related to mobility, sight or hearing) in either an accessible or an inaccessible environment and subsequently reported their perceptions of, and reactions to, the target person. In support of the hypothesis, non-disabled people viewed people with disabilities more positively in an accessible compared to an inaccessible environment. Specifically, they perceived disabled people as more competent and warm, and pitied them less, compared to in inaccessible or neutral (control) environments. The more positive responses to the disabled targets in accessible environments compared to inaccessible environments was largely consistent across disability types, although the deaf target was uniquely viewed as equally positive in the neutral (control) environment and the accessible one. These findings indicate that provision of appropriately accessible environments can be a tool of prejudice reduction.
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