Does Volunteering With Children Affect Attitudes Toward Adults With Disabilities? A Prospective Study of Unequal Contact

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ObjectivesDetermine effects of volunteering with children with disabilities on attitudes toward adults with disabilities; examine predictors of social distance.SettingPediatric educational-rehabilitation center.MethodSeventy-one adult volunteers completed measures before and after volunteering for 4 to 10 months with children with physical or hearing impairments.Main outcome variablesQuestionnaire measures of social distance, self- and other-focused attitudes, thoughts, and affect toward adults with disabilities.ResultsVolunteering decreased social distance and had the greatest impact on comfort and ease, regardless of the group with which participants volunteered. There was little change in thoughts and beliefs about people with disabilities. Social distance was best predicted by an other-focused variable: thoughts about the person with a disability.ConclusionsWorking with children with disabilities diminished social distance and improved self-focused aspects of attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. This experience generally did not affect other-focused views, which are important for interaction with peers with disabilities.

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