Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Creating Positive School Experiences for Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Creating Positive School Experiences for Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The school experiences of students with disabilities can be positively or negatively influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of students and school personnel and by general school policies. School counselors can take the lead in assessing school climate in relation to students with disabilities and initiating interventions or advocating for change when appropriate. This article provides an overview of factors to consider in creating positive school experiences for students with disabilities and suggestions for intervention efforts.


Individuals with disabilities often are stigmatized, encountering attitudinal and physical barriers both in work and in daily life. Although federal legislation (e.g., Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990) protects the inherent rights of individuals with disabilities, that legislation cannot always protect them from subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice. School-age students with disabilities often have negative school experiences related to their having a disability, and school counselors, administrators, and teachers can help to create more positive school experiences that promote their academic, career, and personal/social growth. By examining the attitudes and behaviors of school staff and students as well as systemic factors related to the school, school counselors in collaboration with other school personnel can determine areas for intervention and respond accordingly.


For the past 20 years, researchers have examined the attitudes of a variety of professionals toward individuals with disabilities. Although many researchers found that people in general possess negative attitudes toward individuals with disabilities (Gething, LaCour, & Wheeler, 1994; Yuker, 1994), much of the research provided comparisons of only one group of individuals to another without identifying attitudes as positive or negative. In relation to school counselors and educators, very little research has been conducted in the past 10 years, and most of that research has focused on teachers and/or has examined attitudes toward inclusion, as opposed to attitudes specifically toward students with disabilities. The research summarized below suggests that school personnel and students might possess slightly negative attitudes toward students with disabilities and that the attitudes of school counselors are similar to, if not more positive than, those of other school personnel.

Recent research suggests students and teachers possess somewhat negative attitudes toward students with disabilities, or that they view individuals with disabilities as different from and inferior to individuals without disabilities (Gething et al., 1994). From their meta-analysis of research studies published from 1990 to 2000, examining attitudes toward children with disabilities, Nowicki and Sandieson (2002) concluded that children without disabilities generally preferred to interact with children without either physical or intellectual disabilities. Furthermore, McDougall, DeWit, King, Miller, and Killip (2004) examined the attitudes of ninth-grade students toward students with disabilities and found that, although the majority had attitudes classified as neutral to positive, slightly over 20% had negative attitudes. They also found that females had slightly more positive attitudes than did males, and students who had a friend or classmate with a disability had more positive attitudes than those students without direct contact with students with disabilities. Finally, Hastings and Oakford (2003) found that student teachers possessed more negative attitudes toward students with behavioral and/or emotional problems than toward students with cognitive disabilities. The former were perceived to have a more negative impact on the school and on other students.

In comparing attitudes of various professionals toward students with disabilities, Yuker (1994) reported few differences among the attitudes of regular education teachers, special education teachers, administrators, and other educators toward students with disabilities, but he did not state whether their attitudes tended to be positive or negative. …

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