Background There have been many studies on attitudes to disability, but few are nationally representative, and little is known about how attitudes vary by socio-demographic characteristics and contact with disabled people.
Methods We used data from 2,000 members of an Australian probability panel who completed a survey on disability-related attitudes. Attitudes were measured with the Attitudes to Disability Scale (ADS), which asks 16 questions in 5-point Likert-type format. The outcome for this analysis was the Prospects sub-scale, which asks whether the capacities and aspirations of disabled people should differ from those of non-disabled people. Raw scores out of 20 points were standardized (mean 0, SD 1) with positive scores representing more positive attitudes. Sociodemographic variables (disability/carer status, age cohort, education level, country of birth, socio-economic disadvantage, gender, and region of residence) were fitted in a linear regression model to examine predictors of attitudes. Eight measures of lifetime contact with people with disability (e.g. ever lived with a person with disability [yes/no]) were then fitted in separate models to examine associations with attitudes, adjusting for potential confounders excludes participants with a disability and carers.
Results Female (versus male) gender predicted more positive attitudes (β=0.36, 95% CI 0.23, 0.49), as did overseas English-speaking origin (β=0.20, 95% CI 0.02, 0.39) relative to native Australian, and year 12 educational attainment (β=0.41, 95% CI 0.21, 0.60) or university study (β=0.39, 95% CI 0.20, 0.58) relative to less than year 12. People with disability (versus non-disabled non-carers) had more negative attitudes (β=-0.15, 95% CI -0.30, -0.01), as did members of the oldest (Lucky) generation versus the youngest (iGeneration) (β=-0.37, 95% CI -0.62, -0.12) and overseas non-English speaking origin (β=-0.37, 95% CI -0.62, -0.13) versus native Australian. In the 8 contact models, 4 were associated with more positive attitudes: ever having a colleague (β=0.29, 95% CI 0.13, 0.45); classmate (β=0.26, 95% CI 0.09, 0.43); close friend (β=0.25, 95% CI 0.07, 0.42); and teacher/boss (β=0.27, 95% CI 0.02, 0.52) with disability.
Conclusion This study is the first Australian population-based study of predictors of attitudes to disability. Internalized stigma might explain why disability was associated with more negative attitudes among disabled people. Because this is a cross-sectional study, we do not know the direction of the relationship between having friends with disability and positive attitudes however our findings suggest that peer relationships in social environments and contact in work and educational settings promote positive attitudes to disabled people.
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