Can attitudinal barriers relating to physical disabilities be modified with targeted education?
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This study aims to determine whether the attitudes of students (and therefore future employers) towards people with physical disabilities can be modified by exposing them to the needs of disabled people, or whether perceptions of the needs of the disabled are too entrenched for education to effect any change. It also evaluates whether attitudinal changes are enduring and therefore continue to influence students’ responses to the disabled after a period of time has elapsed. Respondents were students on the Diploma of Hospitality Management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), enrolled on an Accommodation Operations paper. A compulsory assessment for this paper was a group assignment that considered facilities offered by accommodation providers for guests with disabilities. Respondents were surveyed before (n = 54) and after (n = 24) the assignment to determine any attitude and knowledge changes. Both surveys were undertaken at the end of lectures. The surveys were distributed in class, so the number of respondents relates to the number of students in class during the particular lecture selected for survey distribution. Respondents were then invited to join a focus group to explore their feelings and opinions about disabled people. Another focus group was undertaken with students who had completed the disability assignment the previous year. The focus group was to assess whether or not the awareness of disability issues was still apparent after a period of time had elapsed. These findings would then prove whether or not exposure to such issues still influenced respondents’ attitudes. The second survey responses and comments made during the subsequent focus groups conclude that awareness of disability issues may be heightened with exposure to barriers, both physical and attitudinal, that are experienced by people with impairments. Understanding of disability issues is the first step in the removal of barriers and will help lead to the creation of a more inclusive environment for staff and guests in the hospitality industry. An inclusive environment is particularly desirable as more hotels are required in response to increases in tourist numbers. With increased visitors’ arrivals, it is reasonable to expect that tourists will have varying abilities, and therefore, modification of facilities to suit their needs will benefit a large number of people. The research also concludes that the knowledge gained in the assignment was still influential after the conclusion of the assignment. Students who have studied issues for people with impairments, as future managers, will have the knowledge and understanding to provide a more inclusive environment for guests that meets both social and legal obligations. Such an environment will be beneficial to both guests and potential employees with physical disabilities.