White Racial Identity and Attitudes toward People with Disabilities

By Sciarra, Daniel; Chang, Tai et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, October 2005 | Go to article overview

White Racial Identity and Attitudes toward People with Disabilities


Sciarra, Daniel, Chang, Tai, McLean, Ron, Wong, Daniel, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


This empirical study investigated the relationship between racial identity and attitudes toward people with disabilities. Results indicate that higher statuses of racial identity correlate positively while lower and more racist-oriented statuses correlate negatively with attitudes toward people with disabilities. The study supports the notion that attitudes from cultural memberships associated with power can transfer from one domain (i.e., White/People of Color) to another domain (i.e., Abled/Disabled).

Este estudio empirico investigo la relacion entre la identidad y actitudes raciales hacia personas con incapacidades. Los resultados indican que las posiciones mas altas de la identidad racial se pone en correlacion positivamente mientras bajan y mils posiciones racista-orientados se pone en correlacion negativamente con actitudes hacia personas con incapacidades. El estudio sostiene la nocion que actitudes de asociaciones culturales asociadas con el poder pueden transferir de un dominio (es decir, los Blancos/Personas del Color) a otro dominio (es decir, Capacitados/ Incapacitados).

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Attitude research has a long-standing tradition in the counseling field (Millington, Strohmer, Reid, & Spengler, 1996). As our society has grown more diverse and the concept of multiculturalism has come to occupy a central place in counseling, research has focused on attitudes that result from belonging to a particular cultural group as defined by race (Behrens, Leach, Franz, & LaFleur, 1999; Cross & Vandiver, 2001; Helms, 1990b, 1990c, 1995; Helms & Carter, 1990; Helms & Cook, 1999; Helms & Parham, 1996; Sellers, Rowley, Chavous, Shelton, & Smith, 1997), ethnicity (Gao, Schmidt, & Gudykunst, 1994; Kwan & Sodowsky, 1997; Lysne & Levy, 1997; Oyserman & Sakamoto, 1997; Phinney, 1992), gender (Downing & Roush, 1985; Fischer et al., 2000; Moradi & Subich, 2002a, 2002b), and sexual orientation (Troiden, 1988; Cooley, 1998). Although multicultural attitude research has also included other categories (e.g., social class, age, and religion), race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation have been the primary memberships examined through the dynamics of dominant versus nondominant culture.

dominant versus nondominant cultural identity

Tables 1 and 2 outline the dynamics involved in the development of a nondominant and dominant cultural identity. Using Helms's (1984, 1990b, 1995) racial identity development theory as a basis, a nondominant cultural identity is defined as an individual's psychological response to membership in an oppressed group. In contrast, dominant cultural identity refers to an individual's psychological response to membership in a group that benefits from oppression (Helms, 1990c, 1995). Like other developmental models, all of the different statuses in cultural identity exist to some degree in each individual. Identity is achieved through one or two statuses being particularly dominant across time and situations. As the result of certain environmental determinants, however, an individual can recycle through earlier statuses, which has led Helms (1995, p. 182) to suggest movement from one status to another as "in" and "out" rather than "from" and "to."

attitudes toward people with disabilities

More recently, multicultural counseling theory (see, for example, Fukuyama, 1990; Ho, 1995; Sue, Ivey, & Pederson, 1996) began to consider the cultures of ability and disability as reflective of the same dominant versus nondominant cultural dynamic as race (e.g., White vs. People of Color), ethnicity (e.g., Eurocentric vs. other), gender (e.g., male vs. female), and sexual orientation (e.g., straight vs. gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered).

Changes in contemporary society make the study of attitudes toward people with disabilities an important issue. For example, in the academic year 1998-1999, the number of students ages 6 through 21 years who were served under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; P. …

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