Teaching graduates to value inclusivity using disability awareness

Friends by JD Hancock https://flic.kr/p/ahkuib CC BY 2.0

Given that disability affects the lives of one in every five Australians1, our graduates are likely to in the future, either experience a disability themselves or be in a position of care for someone living with a disability, or encounter disability in their lives in a professional or social context.

Disability awareness (DA) is a way of allowing students with or without a disability to share a learning environment with others as well as gaining skills for the future. Disability awareness has been defined as a “positive attitude and increased empathy toward people with disabilities.”2 Researchers have suggested that disability awareness training helps in “providing teachers and students with an understanding of the challenges faced by students with different abilities.”3

In 2014, a DA program was designed for final year pharmacy students in an advanced pharmacotherapeutics course. A needs analysis conducted with the cohort in initial weeks of Semester 1 (2014) using a custom designed questionnaire identified that students were not confident of managing medication issues or communicating effectively with clients who had a disability.4 An educational package comprising 4 specialised lectures and a 3 hour workshop was designed to address these gaps and implemented in the latter half of the semester. This package utilised a learning cascade of exposure (exposing learners to disability), experience (creating a simulated experience of an actual disability) and ownership (getting learners to take ownership for ensuring an equitable environment for those with disability).5

Results indicated that pharmacy students’ (n=256) perception of their ability to identify medication issues in people living with disabilities and confidence in communicating with patients with a disability was enhanced. Content analysis of descriptive comments from students post workshop suggested that students, on reflection, had a more empathic understanding of medication use in people with disabilities.4

These results indicate that implementation of DA training in University based courses can enhance the attitudes of students towards disability, and awareness about disability; prompt reflection on how disability may impact future career/social pathways; and help students build self-appointed roles/responsibilities towards people living with a disability.

This piece was written by Associate Professor Bandana Saini, Faculty of Pharmacy. Please contact her for further information.

1. Australian Network on Disability. Accessed at http://www.and.org.au/pages/disability-statistics.html

2. Foley JT, Tindall D, Lieberman L, Kim S.  How to develop disability awareness using the sport education model, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 2007;78(9):32-36

3. Fittipaldi-Wert J, Brock S. I can play too: Disability awareness activities for your physical education class. Strategies, 2007; 20(5): 30-33.

4. Davis S, Saini B, Bosnic Anticevich S. Attitudes of pharmacy students regarding pharmacotherapeutics of people with disabilities. In the proceedings of the Australasian Pharmaceutical Science Association Annual Conference December 2014.

5. Wilson S, Lieberman L. Disability awareness in physical education. Strategies, 2000; 13(6), 12:29-33.

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