Engaging persons with disabilities as community teachers for experiential learning in occupational therapy education
BackgroundCultivating empathy towards persons with disabilities has been highlighted as an essential graduate attribute in the occupational therapy profession.PurposeWith the aim to developing a more holistic understanding of disability, this project seeks to translate an experiential learning activity developed in Canada to the local Singaporean context. Small groups of two to three students were paired with a person with physical disability, known as a community teacher, for a series of visits to observe and participate in their self-care, productivity and leisure activities.MethodA sequential explanatory mixed methods design was adopted with the administration of an adapted version of the Multidimensional Attitudes Scale Towards Persons with Disabilities on 51 first year occupational therapy students. Seventeen students participated in three focus group discussions at the end of the learning activity.Findings: Comparison of pre- and post-scores using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests of all three subscales of the Multidimensional Attitudes Scale Towards Persons with Disabilities yielded significant improvements. The average score for Affect improved from 42.94 to 32.08, z = −5.43, P < .001; for Cognition improved from 26.12 to 21.41, z = −4.20, P < .001; for Behaviour improved from 23.78 to 20.65, z= −4.44, P < .001. Effect sizes ranged from medium to large. Thematic analysis of focus groups led to the identification of four themes that explained these improvements.Implications: Experiential learning can be effective in cultivating empathy and improving attitudes of occupational therapy students towards persons with disabilities. There is potential to expand this pedagogical approach to other health sciences disciplines.
Journal/Conference/Book titleHong Kong Journal of Occupational Therapy