Disabling prejudice

 David Welch Suggs, Jr. and Jason Lee Guthrie (Grady PhD student), “Disabling prejudice: Images of Paralympic athletes and their effects on societal attitudes toward people with disabilities” (paper to be presented at the Media and the Public Sphere International Conference, Athens, Georgia, October 22, 2016).
Part of the goal of the International Paralympic Committee is to “touch the heart of all people for a more equitable society.” Media exposure of athletes with permanent physical disabilities may affect the able-bodied population’s perception of people with disabilities in general. We theorized that this change in attitude could occur following parasocial contact with disabled athletes, potentially disrupting the formation of social identity and the tendency to view the disabled population as “other.” This theoretical claim was tested by exposing some respondents to a specially produced documentary of a Paralympic sprinter. When compared with respondents who viewed a short documentary about an athlete recovering from a non-disabling injury, we found evidence that our portrayal could change viewers’ attitudes toward the disabled through the emotional components of attitude formation. In addition to informing the International Paralympic Committee’s mission for equality, these findings are of interest to proponents of adaptive sports, producers of adaptive sports media, and marketers who use disabled athletes in advertising campaigns.
Welch Suggs  Jason Lee Guthrie 

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