Do People with Disabilities Feel Excluded? Comparison of Learning and Physical Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Little prior research has examined altitudinal differences between those with learning and physical disabilities, but an enhanced understanding can be critical to institutions in order to better work with people across a range of disability types. Then are expected to be specific differences in disability attitudes between people with physical and learning disabilities. People with physical disabilities are hypothesised to report greater feelings of exclusion, pride, and social activism, whereas people with learning disabilities will have a greater tendency to value treatment assistance from doctors. Hypotheses were generally supported. Attitudes of people with physical disabilities are often different from those of people with learning disabilities, a distinction that requires understanding, acknowledgment, sensitivity and appmpriate interaction.

Keywords: learning disability; physical disability; attitudes; orientation; social; exclusion

1. Introduction

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (U.S. Department of Justice, 1991), a disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities...." The U.S. Census Bureau (2003) describes and tracks certain types of disabilities, some more physical and some more learning-oriented. For example "a condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying" would be classified as a physical disability. Sensory disabilities, such as "blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment," might also be considered more physical in nature. However, difficulty "learning, remembering, or concentrating" would more accurately describe a learning disability. According to U.S. Census data for the year 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003), there are 30.5 million people with physical, sight or hearing disabilities, and 12.4 million with disabilities relating to learning, remembering, or concentrating.

Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention (National Institutes of Health, 2011). Learning disabilities occur in very young children, but are not usually recognized until school age. About 8 to 10 percent of American children under 18 years old have some type of learning disability (National Institutes of Health, 2011). Thus, learning disabilities are prevalent but are more difficult to recognize and define in comparison to physical disabilities.

There can be tension between two alternatives for people with learning disabilities: 1) "passing" as non-disabled, thus avoiding immediate potential stigmatization, but risking unintended exposure; and 2) proactive disclosure, acknowledging potential stigmatization and getting assistance for the disability. Of course, there are many alternatives in between, in which disclosure can be made selectively to certain individuals but not others. It has been suggested that learning disabilities can be more stressful and psychologically damaging than physical disabilities, because of ambivalence regarding disclosure (Patterson and Blum, 1996). This leads to interesting questions regarding the emotional and cognitive processing dynamics of people with learning disabilities, in contrast to those with physical disabilities.

The purpose of the current research is to specifically compare, for people with learning versus physical disabilities, specific attitudes toward their disability. Those with physical disabilities are more likely to define themselves as disabled, because their disabilities are more obvious and affect many aspects of their lives. Those with learning disabilities, on the other hand, may feel "normal" in many life situations which do not involve cognitive prowess (family life, sports, social events, etc.), potentially providing more incentive to "pass" as non-disabled. …