People with intellectual disability (ID) experience negative consequences as a result of stigmas held by the public. Students with ID involved in inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs demonstrate positive outcomes. This study examines the impact of an IPSE program on typically matriculating student attitudes toward ID. Explicit and implicit attitudes were measured at the start and end of a semester among IPSE volunteer peer mentors (n = 17) and an uninvolved student group (n = 14). Findings indicate that volunteers demonstrated lower discomfort after their volunteer experience, as measured by the Attitudes Toward Intellectual Disability Questionnaire (ATTID). Volunteers also demonstrated higher knowledge of causes and preference for interaction with people with ID than nonvolunteers. This demonstrates that volunteer involvement in IPSE positively impacts attitudes toward people with ID among typically matriculating college students.
Inclusive Postsecondary Education Programs
Intellectual disability (ID) is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Intellectual functioning refers to general mental capacity, such as learning, reasoning, and problem solving; whereas, adaptive behavior is the collection of conceptual (language, money, time, self-direction, etc.), social (interpersonal skills, self-esteem, social problem solving, etc.), and practical skills (activities of daily living, occupational skills, use of money, transportation, navigation, etc.) that are learned and performed by people in their everyday lives (Schalock et al., 2010). This disability originates before the age of 18 and is expected to exist throughout the individual's lifespan. Historically, the diagnosis of ID precluded many young adults from participating in postsecondary higher education opportunities; however, change has occurred through the grassroots efforts of the families of youth with ID and through federal policy, most notably the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Through these efforts, the doors of institutes of higher education (IHEs) have been opened to youth with intellectual disability to offer a normative pathway that can lead to positive lifelong employment, academic, economic, and social outcomes (Uditsky & Hughson, 2012).
Inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs are transition programs within IHEs that provide individual supports and services for the academic and social inclusion of students with ID in college courses, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of higher education. Currently, 265 IPSE programs exist in the United States across 49 states according to the Think College (n.d.) database. Although IPSE programs are growing nationally, there is marked variation in program design and the level of inclusion of students with ID with traditional college students. In assessing the characteristics of programs housed in 2- and 4-year colleges, Papay and Bambara (2012) found that 77% of respondents described their program as being mixed and 11.5% described their program as either individualized or separate. A mixed program is defined as offering opportunities for inclusive activities with traditionally enrolled college students, as well as life skills or vocational instruction in a separate setting (Papay & Bambara, 2012). An individualized program carries a focus on traditional college activities that meet the needs of an individual student with no instruction in a separate setting (Papay & Bambara, 2012). Finally, separate programs are those with a focus on life skills instruction in separate settings with students with disabilities only and no opportunities for inclusive activities with traditionally enrolled college students (Papay & Bambara, 2012). In a 2014 qualitative study, Prohn found that social inclusion was a function of belonging and attributed worth in context with the greatest opportunities for sustainable social inclusion occurring in contexts where students with ID had maximal control over their social choices and experiences highlighting the importance of individualized or mixed program designs.
In spite of this variation, initial research has shown positive results for students in these programs. Weinkauf (2002) interviewed staff at three IPSE programs and identified a number of positive student outcomes, including the development of self-esteem and confidence, improvement in academic skills, the development of job skills, and social status enhancement. Further, Zafft, Hart, and Zimbrich (2004) found that participation in postsecondary education for students with significant disabilities correlated positively with job competitiveness, obtaining paid positions, and lessening work-related supports. Those who complete a postsecondary education program are 14% more likely to secure a paid job and make weekly wages that are 44% higher than those who do not (Smith, Grigal, & Shepard, 2018). For students who were engaged in Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students With Intellectual Disability (TPSIDs; which are mixed or individualized programs) in 2015–2016, 43% had a paid job, which is comparable to enrolled full-time college students who held paid jobs (43%) and far greater than their working-age peers supported by state agencies (17%; Smith, Gringal, & Papay, 2018).
Attitudes in IPSE Programs
Given that the majority of IPSE programs include students with ID using mixed or individualized structures, these programs have the ability to influence both the students directly enrolled in the IPSE program as well as the traditional student that will interact with program enrollees. Although the hope is that indirect involvement in IPSE programs might result in positive gains for traditional students as well, research examining the effect of IPSE programs on the attitudes of traditionally enrolled college students can help confirm this. One area in which some initial research has been conducted is in the area of enrolled student attitudes toward students with ID. In 2012, a survey of 256 college students found overall positive attitudes (Griffin, Summer, McMillan, Day, & Hodapp, 2012). The authors noted some variability in terms of responses such that female students compared to male students and students with higher self-reported comfort levels around peers demonstrated more positive attitudes toward people with ID. Specifically, these groups perceived the abilities of people with ID as higher, thought more benefits were associated with the inclusion of students with ID, and expressed more willingness to interact with these students on campus. Similarly, in a survey of 572 students, Westling, Kelley, Cain, and Prohn (2013) found knowledge of the postsecondary program on campus was related to more positive attitudes toward people with an intellectual disability, including a perception that the IPSE program not only benefitted students with ID but all enrolled students as well. More specifically, the majority of students polled responded favorably to an item indicating that “including students with ID in college class can be beneficial to other college students in the class” and to an item that stated “including students with ID in campus life is beneficial to other college students” (Westling et al., 2013). It is hypothesized that through increased interaction with people with ID, typically matriculating students might gain increased knowledge of these individuals that may help to diminish pre-existing stigmas and improve overall attitudes. May (2012) examined changes in attitudes toward diversity among peers without disabilities who participated in an inclusive college course with students diagnosed with ID using the Miville-Guzman Universality-Diversity Scale (M-GUDS). This study found scores did not differ between groups at the start of the semester, but students enrolled in inclusive courses showed significantly greater openness to diversity at the end of the semester, suggesting that inclusive college programs that enroll both students with and without ID in regular college courses may foster positive attitudes about acceptance and diversity among students without such a disability. In a qualitative study, Izzo and Shuman (2013) supported prior quantitative research by analyzing data from surveys, journals, and focus groups from eight students enrolled in a disability studies internship on their perceptions and experiences as educational coaches and mentors with students with ID. The results confirmed previous studies that typical students, with prior experience and high comfort ratings, agree that students with ID should have the ability to participate in college experiences such as classes, campus organizations, and living in dorms with support. Additional themes that emerged from the qualitative analysis indicated that the disability studies interns clarified their own career goals by supporting students with ID (Izzo & Shuman, 2013). More research is needed to examine in greater depth the positive impact that IPSE programs have on attitudes toward ID because a review of the literature confirms that both people with ID and caregivers experience stigma from a broad range of individuals in society (Ali, Hassiotis, Strydom, & King, 2012). Additionally, there is specific evidence to show this occurs in the college context from peers (Larkin, Jahoda, MacMahon, & Pert, 2012).
Stigmas for Intellectual Disability
In certain instances, negative attitudes toward people with ID develop into a social stigma, defined as adverse attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors resulting from the perception of a negatively evaluated trait of a person or social group (Werner & Araten-Bergman, 2017). From the perspective of individuals with ID, research has documented that individuals of all ages experience a variety of stigmatizing interactions (Ali et al., 2012). For example, children with ID demonstrated stigmatized treatment such as name calling in both mainstream and special education settings (Cooney, Jahoda, Gumley, & Knott, 2006), college students with ID reported more conflict on campus (Larkin et al., 2012), and adults with ID reported feeling the effects of stigmas at work (Li, 2004) and in a variety of group home settings (Jahoda & Markova, 2004). Evidence of affiliate stigma, or stigma experienced by family members of individuals diagnosed with ID, also exists both in the United States and in a range of countries around the world (for a review, see Ali et al., 2012).
In addition to simply identifying the presence of stigma, mounting evidence has begun to reveal the profound negative impact stigma has on both the individual with a disability and on family members. Among individuals with ID, research has shown that stigma negatively correlates with self-esteem (Abraham, Gregory, Wolf, & Pemberton, 2002; Paterson, McKenzie, & Lindsay, 2012; Petrovski & Gleeson, 1997), positive self-evaluations (Dagnan & Waring, 2004), and positive social comparisons (Dagnan & Waring, 2004; Paterson et al., 2012). In addition, a positive relation was identified between self-reported experience with stigma and psychiatric symptoms (Paterson et al., 2012). Among family members, experienced stigma was associated with higher reported stress (Baxter & Cummins, 1992) and greater perceived caregiver burden and emotional stress (Green, 2004, 2007; Mak & Cheung, 2008). Although these studies represent the perspective of individuals with ID and their families, measurement techniques to help examine for the presence of these stigmas within the individuals who are nondisabled is an essential component to combating the proliferation of stigmas. Given the variability in types of stigmas that exist and the unique intervention approaches (Luoma, Kohlenberg, Hayes, Bunting, & Rye, 2008), developing interventions that have a positive impact on attitudes requires a thorough examination of the underlying stigmas in the target population.
Explicit vs. Implicit
Broadly, attitudes can be characterized as implicit or explicit. Explicit attitudes are controllable, self-reported, and introspective. They are attitudes that individuals have conscious access to and can readily detail. Assessing explicit attitudes can be as simple as asking participants to report their preference for one item over another (Nosek, 2007). However, when talking about attitudes toward stigmatized groups, some researchers have argued that explicit reporting underestimates negative attitudes (Hinshaw & Stier, 2008). Because individuals have the ability to consciously provide their own response, social desirability bias can lead individuals to withhold their true attitude for fear of judgment or reprisal. Additionally, accurate reporting of explicit stigma is contingent upon self-awareness of one's own belief. If individuals have no insight into their own bias or are unwilling to admit their negative attitudes to another person, the validity of the measure decreases.
This has led some researchers to argue that implicit attitudes are better predictors of covert beliefs and unacceptable attitudes than self-report, especially when dealing with sensitive topics like stigma (Greenwald, Poehlman, Uhlmann, & Banaji, 2009). Although research regarding explicit stigma associated with ID has been more common, both explicit and implicit attitudes are important for understanding behavior (Akrami, Ekehammar, Claesson, & Sonnander, 2006; Hofmann, Gawronski, Gschwendner, Le, & Schmitt, 2005; Nosek, 2007). Implicit attitudes are unconscious, nondeliberate, and formed quickly (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Implicit stigma shows high predictive validity to other indices of bias and discrimination (Hofmann et al., 2005).
A growing body of research has uncovered prominent implicit attitudes using a disability-specific version of the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). For example, negative implicit attitudes toward people with Down syndrome were observed among a general sample of college students (Enea-Drapeau, Carlier, & Huguet, 2012) and for a more general classification of ID among a diverse group of participants (Federici & Meloni, 2008). Similarly, when exploring implicit measures through a recent literature review of attitudes toward people with ID, moderate to strong negative attitudes toward people with ID were often observed (Wilson & Scior, 2014).
A similar literature review of explicit attitudes toward people with ID detailed differences in and predictors of negative attitudes toward people with ID (Scior, 2011). Some of the most common predictors of attitudes toward ID include gender, age, and education attainment. Females, younger individuals, and those with higher educational attainments have more positive attitudes toward people with ID. Negative explicit attitudes were also shown to be based on symptom severity; people in the general public held more negative attitudes toward people with severe rather than mild levels of ID. Finally, more positive attitudes have been consistently related to prior contact with ID.
In her review, Scoir (2011) emphasizes that there are few studies on attitudes toward ID that test for change in attitudes over time. Specifically, she states that most studies that reported positive effects of contact on attitudes use a cross-sectional design. To minimize selection effects (i.e., differences in the groups at the beginning of the study), she calls for more longitudinal designs that track change over time.
The introduction of a new IPSE program at a large public university provided a unique opportunity to provide a robust view of the positive collateral impact of a postsecondary education program for people with ID on typically matriculating college students. The current study extends prior research on attitudes toward disability by comparing implicit and explicit attitudes toward ID from volunteer-enrolled peer mentors in this new IPSE program and a control group without contact with students with ID over the course of the inaugural 15-week semester. We expected students involved as volunteers in the IPSE to have improved attitudes toward people with ID over time due to a combination of positive interactions with individuals with ID and didactic instruction related to the topic but did not anticipate any change among the nonvolunteer group. Additionally, to further add to the research examining attitudes among the general public, we examined differences in attitudes between the two groups. Given the self-selection that accompanies the submission of volunteer applications, we anticipated general attitudes, both explicit and implicit, would be more positive among the volunteer group as compared to the nonvolunteer group.
DD Program Summary
The inaugural semester of this IPSE program took place in spring of 2017. In the first semester, five students with ID were fully included in traditional in-person classes on the main college campus. The components of this fully inclusive program include an individually determined program of academic study, social skill development, work-based experiential learning, and independent living that is based on person-centered planning methods and practices. The model takes into consideration each student's career goals, their peer and natural supports, and the need for engagement outside the classroom. With the support of peer mentors, students participate in extracurricular activities and other facets of campus life.
All IPSE program students with ID are paired with in-person peer mentors. All mentors are enrolled students who receive training to support those with disabilities. Students may be enrolled in a practicum course taught by faculty focused on “Principles of Person-Centered Practices.” Peer mentors assist with the facilitation and implementation of IPSE person-centered plans through a minimum of 30 hours of service learning over the course of a semester. All peer mentors aid students in one or more of three target areas: academic (one-on-one and in class support, library navigation, study partners, etc.); health and wellness (dining companions, cooking skills, exercise buddy, etc.); and/or social/extracurricular (student club/organization events, social activities, sporting events, community service projects, etc.). Peer mentors commit to approximately three hours of peer mentorship per week over the course of the semester; mandatory preservice training; completion of reflection journals; and participation in research, ongoing meetings, and workshops when possible.
Participants were enrolled into one of two groups: (1) IPSE volunteers (mentors) and (2) control participants or nonvolunteers. IPSE volunteers received information about the study through emails sent through the IPSE listserv developed for communication with mentors throughout the semester. Control participants were recruited through a university research pool in the College of Education. Individuals from the research pool were primarily freshman and sophomore education majors enrolled in introductory education courses.
Participation for both groups was optional and anonymous. Eighty-three participants took part in the time 1 assessment; however, attrition was high and only 17 volunteers and 14 control participants completed the time 2 assessment (the majority of attrition occurred within the control group). Results are reported only for those participants who completed the assessment at both time points. All participants were typically matriculating undergraduate students with a mean age of 20.35 years at the beginning of the study, and 93.5% were female. At time point 2, IPSE volunteers had an average of 41.10 hours (SD = 13.39) working directly with students in the IPSE program.
Explicit attitudes were measured using a modified version of the Attitudes Toward Intellectual Disability Questionnaire (ATTID). The ATTID is a self-reported measure of attitudes toward people with ID (Morin, Rivard, Crocker, Boursier, & Caron, 2013). The original version consists of 67 items rated by participants on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (completely agree) to 5 (completely disagree). For the purposes of this study, six items were removed because they were not relevant for the college population (e.g., Would you accept Raphael working at your child's day care center or school? Would you accept Raphael as your son or daughter's friend?). The remaining 61 items can be divided into five factors: sensitivity, discomfort, knowledge of capacity and rights, knowledge of causes, and interaction. In the present sample, all five subscales of the ATTID showed good internal consistency reliability with Cronbach's alpha coefficients ranging from 0.825 to 0.946.
Implicit Association Test
An Implicit Association Test (IAT) was used to explore implicit stigma toward people with ID. In the traditional IAT, researchers are unable to derive the nature of differences in reaction times. The same difference in reaction times between sorting tasks (i.e., D-score) could indicate: 1) a strong association of positive terms with the nontarget group, 2) a strong association of negative terms with the target group, 3) a weak association of positive terms with the target group, or 4) a weak association of negative terms with the nontarget group. By isolating one category at a time, the Single Category Implicit Association Test (SC-IAT) allows for testing of absolute (rather than relative) stigma to determine the source of the association. In addition, the SC-IAT shows a stronger correlation with explicit measures than other IATs, suggesting higher internal validity (Karpinski & Steinman, 2006).
A modified SC-IAT was used for the current study. The SC-IAT consisted of four blocks and 80 trials, 40 practice trials, and 40 test trials. See Table 1 for a complete list of categories and category exemplars. Category labels (e.g., “good,” “bad,” “disability,” and “other”) were presented in either the upper right or upper left of the computer screen, depending on the testing block, and the corresponding keystroke (i.e., e or i) used for sorting was also included. Refer to Figure 1 to see the categories used for sorting in each of the four blocks. Each of the category exemplars was presented randomly, once per block, in the middle of the computer screen. Participants were asked to sort these words (i.e., category exemplars) as quickly as possible without making mistakes.
As aforementioned, the SC-IAT had four blocks, and all category exemplars were presented in each block. The first block allowed participants to practice the sorting task by asking them to sort “good” category exemplars with “disability” category exemplars by pressing the “e” key on a standard keyboard. In this same block, participants were asked to categorize “bad” category exemplars with category exemplars from the “other” category by selecting the “i” key. Participants received feedback for all sorting errors in the first block; a red X appeared in the center of the screen with the words “Please try again.” In the second block, participants were asked to sort the category exemplars using the same category pairings, but no feedback for errors was provided.
In the third block, participants were asked to sort category exemplars from the “disability” category with category exemplars from the “bad” category, while at the same time sorting the “other” and “good” category exemplars together. Identical to Block 1, in Block 3, participants were given feedback for incorrect responses. In the last block (i.e., Block 4), participants were asked to again sort the terms using the pairings from Block 3, but no feedback about their accuracy was provided.
In order to score the modified SC-IAT, reaction times for sorting exemplars into the “other” category were discarded, and the remaining data was scored as a standard SC-IAT (Karpinski & Steinman, 2006). To account for errors, incorrect responses were replaced with the block mean plus two standard deviations for that block, and the newer D-score algorithm was used to compute D-scores for each individual (Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji, 2003). For the resulting D-scores, larger (i.e., more positive) scores represented more stigma.
All participants provided their informed consent prior to participation. All data collection occurred online utilizing Qualtrics online software. The total experiment took approximately 60 minutes, which included completion of an extensive demographic questionnaire, explicit questionnaires, and the online version of a disabilities-specific SC-IAT. Participants completed the survey once in the first month of the semester (January – Time 1) and one additional time in the last month of the semester (April – Time 2). Volunteer training that they received as part of the IPSE program occurred after Time 1 data collection.
Examination of Explicit Attitudes
To examine our hypotheses regarding the impact of volunteering in the postsecondary education program on explicit attitudes toward people with ID, we conducted a 2 (Time: pre, post) x 2 (Group: Control, Volunteer) mixed ANOVA for each subscale of the ATTID (i.e., discomfort, knowledge of capacity and rights, interaction, sensitivity, and knowledge of causes). See Table 2.
For the discomfort subscale, there was no main effect of time. However, there was a main effect of volunteer status. Volunteers (M = 1.36, SE = 0.13) reported significantly less discomfort than did nonvolunteers (M = 1.78, SE = 0.14). There was also a significant interaction between time and volunteer status. Examination of simple effects using the Bonferroni adjustment revealed no difference in the discomfort scale scores of volunteers (M = 1.46, SE = 0.14) and nonvolunteers (M = 1.66, SE = 0.15) at the beginning of the study, p = 0.343. At time point 2, volunteers (M = 1.25, SE = 0.15) reported significantly lower discomfort scores than nonvolunteers (M = 1.90, SE = 0.16), p = 0.005 (see Figure 2).
For the knowledge of capacity and rights subscale of the ATTID, there was no main effect of time or volunteer status. There was no interaction between time and volunteer status.
For the interaction subscale of the ATTID, there was no significant main effect of time and no significant interaction between time and volunteer status. However, there was a significant main effect of volunteer status. Volunteers (M = 6.39, SE = 0.184) reported higher interaction scores than nonvolunteers (M = 5.51, SE = 0.20).
For the sensitivity subscale of the ATTID, there was a significant main effect of time. All participants reported higher sensitivity scores at time point 1 (M = 3.50, SE = 0.15) than at time point 2 (M = 3.00, SE = 0.16). There was also a significant main effect of volunteer status. Volunteers (M = 2.39, SE = 0.18) reported significantly lower sensitivity scores than did nonvolunteers (M = 4.11, SE = 0.20). There was no significant interaction between time and volunteer status.
For the knowledge of causes subscale of the ATTID, there was no significant main effect of time, and no significant interaction between time and volunteer status. However, there was a significant main effect of volunteer status. Volunteers (M = 4.65, SE = 0.23) reported higher knowledge of causes scores than nonvolunteers (M = 3.75, SE = 0.25).
Examination of Implicit Attitudes
To further examine the impact of volunteering on attitudes over time, we examined D-scores from the IAT to determine if the postsecondary education program also had an impact on implicit attitudes. Results from a 2 (Time: pre, post) x 2 (Group: Control, Volunteer) mixed measures ANOVA are presented in Table 2. There were no significant main effects of time or volunteer status. There was also no significant interaction between time and volunteer status.
As IPSE programs increasingly include students with ID on campus as full members of the IHE community and in college courses with traditionally matriculated students (Papay & Bambara, 2012), there is a growing need for research that provides insight into the impact these programs have on the attitudes held by both enrolled students who volunteer with the IPSE program and those who do not. The current study examined the impact of an IPSE on explicit and implicit attitudes toward ID held by typically matriculating students at a large public university. Findings from this study highlight that volunteer peer mentors demonstrated a significant difference in explicit attitudes toward peers with ID compared to nonvolunteers across 4 of 5 domains. Three of these differences were reported increases in positive attitudes (i.e., more comfort with ID, more interaction with students with ID, and more knowledge of causes of ID). There was an interesting finding regarding lowered feelings of sensitivity (sadness and pity) over time for people with ID by both groups.
Analyses of explicit attitudes also revealed a meaningful group by time interaction for the discomfort subscale of the ATTID. Whereas reported levels of discomfort with people with ID was equivalent across groups at the beginning of the study, differences in discomfort emerged for control participants and IPSE volunteers over time. Although no significant interactions were observed for any of the other ATTID subscales, among a small sample, these results suggest that, in addition to the known positive impact IPSE programs have on the student with ID, there are positive benefits of IPSE programs for traditionally matriculating students as well. This finding has significant implications for the behavior of matriculated students toward students with ID in IPSE programs. As described by the ATTID, discomfort is assessed by experiences of anxiety, fear, wariness, insecurity, embarrassment, and comfort level in being in proximity of or talking to a person with ID. Less discomfort toward intellectual disability demonstrated by volunteers at time 2 indicates that serving as a mentor and engaging in positive interactions with peers with ID and receiving training/instruction to support the volunteer in that role may result in improved attitudes not only toward the individuals with ID in the IPSE program but also toward other people with ID. This finding substantiates prior research that shows similar improvements in attitude by students in relationship to youth with ID in IPSE programs (Izzo & Shuman, 2013; May, 2012). Our study also provides evidence to indicate that simply having students with ID on campus but not engaging in some sort of facilitated interaction does not result in significant changes in reported levels of discomfort; however, this would vary greatly depending on the size of the IHE and the breadth of the IPSE program. Of note, it seems important that efforts emphasize not only ensuring students have clear understanding of the IPSE program but that they have opportunity to engage with IPSE students with ID on campus. This finding is substantiated by prior research noting respondents with prior contact with individuals with ID were more likely to agree with positive statements toward college students with ID (Westling et al., 2013) and increased openness to those with ID in college students enrolled in inclusive courses (May, 2012). Future research examining how having less direct contact with the IPSE program (i.e., having a student from this program in a class or in your dorm) impacts explicit attitudes and what strategies and approaches are successful with the broader student body is needed.
This study also found that volunteer peer mentors demonstrated higher preference for interaction with individuals with ID. Although these results were not particularly surprising, given that these students self-selected to participate in this program, there are practical implications for the futures of youth with ID if matriculated students are encouraged to become volunteers and acquire similar attitudes. As described by the ATTID, the interaction subscale consists of statements that transcend daily engagement with people with ID. These questions assess the respondents' attitudes toward working with or supervising a person with ID, wage equity, accepting advice from a person with ID, renting an apartment to a person with ID, and accepting a child with ID in a day care or school. As previous research found that those less familiar with students with ID were less comfortable interacting with them and students who interacted with peers with ID were more positive about their abilities (Griffin et al., 2012), the more positive attitudes expressed by volunteers in the IPSE program in this study hold promise that the employment and independent living goals of the students with ID may be supported after graduating the program if higher numbers of student volunteers participate in IPSE.
Another area in which volunteers demonstrated significantly more positive attitudes was in the knowledge of the causes of ID. Again, this finding is not surprising given the educational trajectory and previous coursework of many of the volunteers sampled in this study. With that being said, the control group was sampled from a College of Education, which speaks to the need to provide more general education to individuals at a college level regarding disabilities. Jones and Goble (2012) reported that both IPSE mentors and mentees with ID found that one of the most difficult barriers to overcome were the stereotypical notions of incompetence people have of individuals with ID. Further, given the observed associations between limited knowledge and stigmas (Harrison, Bradshaw, Naqvi, Paff, & Campbell, 2017), having knowledge of the etiology of ID may help to dispel myths that may perpetuate negative attitudes and stigma that negatively impacts people with ID. Research in other fields has shown that interpersonal strategies for increasing knowledge are particularly helpful in stigma reduction (Heijnders & Van Der Meij, 2006).
Finally, over time, our study found significantly lower feelings of sensitivity toward people with ID for both groups, with the volunteer group showing significantly lower mean scores at time 2. Initially this finding may seem negative; however, the ATTID subscale statements for this domain assess affective feelings of sadness, pity, and feeling touched by people with ID. Volunteers in the IPSE program received training on peer mentoring that included a focus on empathy for their mentee in contrast to feeling sorry for him or her. Additionally, strengths-based approaches to support, including person-centered planning that highlight a student with ID's abilities and talents, are infused into the IPSE program. Therefore, this study finding reveals an additional positive aspect of participation in this program in that attitudes of pity, sadness, and sympathy for people with ID decreased significantly over time. The group by time interaction was not significant for this finding because feelings of pity decreased over time as well for the uninvolved control group. This may speak to a change in negative attitudes and stigma among college students in general. When compared to faculty, college students have generally been found to have more positive attitudes about IPSE programs. Gibbons, Cihak, Mynatt, and Wilhoit (2015) found that 97.1% of students sampled agreed/strongly agreed that students with ID should be allowed a typical and regular life and, when asked if they would feel uncomfortable if students with ID were to be integrated into regular university courses, 75.4% participants overall disagreed/strongly disagreed.
Although an examination of the explicit data from this study revealed general group differences in explicit attitudes and positive attitude shifts among typically matriculating students attributable to involvement in IPSE, the results of the implicit attitude analyses were less striking. The reasons for null implicit findings are not entirely clear, but there are at least two explanations for this finding. First, it is possible that the null finding is linked to measurement specificity. Although the content of the ATTID aligned with the diagnoses of students enrolled in IPSE program (i.e., ID), the IAT was designed to more broadly examine implicit attitudes for a range of developmental disabilities (i.e., ID, autism spectrum disorder, etc.). It is hypothesized that an IAT, designed specifically to more narrowly evaluate implicit attitudes, may have resulted in findings that more closely aligned with the explicit data.
Alternatively, it is possible that there truly were no significant shifts in implicit attitudes toward ID as a result of the IPSE program. Previous research using the IAT has shown a mismatch between implicit and explicit findings within the same study (e.g., Dabby, Tranulis, & Kirmayer, 2015; Stull, McGrew, Salyers, & Ashburn-Nardo, 2013; Wilson & Scior, 2014). Other researchers have argued that this difference in explicit and implicit attitudes could indicate that implicit and explicit attitudes are tapping different constructs (Dabby et al., 2015). Influencing each of these constructs might then require separate strategies. If this is true, additional features of IPSE programs should take this into account by developing training techniques that might positively alter volunteer implicit attitudes as well.
Of note, additional study limitations include the small sample size enrolled in the current study, which limits the generalizability of the findings. Given that students enrolled in the IPSE program take a number of courses populated by typically matriculating students, the goal was to evaluate the presence of the IPSE program in the very first semester of implementation to help minimize peripheral interactions students in the control group had with the IPSE program. As a result, we were limited by the size of the first volunteer cohort. Although the longitudinal nature of the study was an important strength, this also resulted in study attrition. With the current design, attrition among the control group could not be avoided given practical constraints of IRB policy and the department recruitment pool (i.e., partial credit had to be assigned for each time point rather than withholding credit until participants completed both parts to ensure participants had the opportunity to discontinue the study at any time without penalty). Given the small sample size, we were not able to look at moderating demographic variables; however, preliminary analyses revealed no group differences on any demographic variables. Our sample and research design also limited us from conducting a multilevel approach to explore differences in stigma. However, there is some research to suggest that interventions (such as postsecondary education programs) may have impacts on stigma within and across levels of the system (Cook, Purdie-Vaughns, Meyer, & Busch, 2014). This is a promising avenue for future research.
By documenting specific positive outcomes for these students as a result of involvement in IPSE programs through the use of a longitudinal design, this study extends prior findings demonstrating that IPSE programs are viewed favorably by typically matriculating college students (Westling et al., 2013) and have positive outcomes (Gibbons et al., 2015; Griffin et al., 2012; May, 2012). More specifically, we observed that increased positive attitudes toward people with ID extended beyond immediate relationships and generalized to vignettes presented on the ATTID. This suggests, and substantiates prior research (Uditsky & Hughson, 2012), that inclusive PSE programs that utilize individualized or mixed designs in which students with ID are included with their enrolled peers have the potential to result in wide-reaching positive outcomes, which is particularly important given the harmful effects that negative attitudes have on people with disabilities and their families.
The authors would like to acknowledge the following people for their support on this project: Anna Berrier Lawrence, Lisa Ulmer, and Lauren Bauben.