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What Are Attitudinal Barriers?

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Attitudinal barriers is a term used for the set of difficulties or challenges experienced by a person with disabilities that result from misunderstanding, confusing or ignoring the disability, using the disability to dismiss the person or to make unfair comparisons about the person's work performance. The term attitudinal barriers is used primarily to explore what happens to individuals with disabilities in the workforce, but these behaviors and beliefs may be present in other areas of the disabled person's life, including during early education as a child.

Inferiority Treatment

Attitudinal barriers may take the form of imposing an inferiority upon the disabled worker. People may have a tendency to forget that not every skill is required for every job position, so that in terms of job performance a person who is disabled and a person who is not might begin evenly matched. This inferiority can root from causes entirely outside the work environment and be attributed to a person's bias or bigotry.

Pity, Charity and Hero Worship

These attitudinal barriers at work can be projected upon the disabled by even the most well-meaning of coworkers. Pity, feeling sorry for those with disabilities, and inclinations towards charity, can make a disabled person feel uncomfortable and deprived of the chance to live and work independently. This can also take the form of a non-disabled person subscribing hero worship to a disabled coworker they believe has overcome all odds to come to work and do his job. Many disabled people feel a disability is just an aspect of their personality they have adjusted to and would prefer equal ground with all other employees.

Prejudice and the Spread Effect

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability (NCWD) says, “Whether born from ignorance, fear, misunderstanding or hate, these attitudes keep people from appreciating and experiencing the full potential a person with a disability can achieve.” One form of this prejudice is known as the Spread Effect, where people treat a disabled person as if their disability has spread to other senses or abilities. Similarly, a positive or negative attitude about all people with disabilities that is absolute in nature, rather based on one experience with a disabled person or a societal assumption, can create unfair expectations for the disabled person in the work environment.


Attitudinal barriers can lead to people with disabilities being patronized by those around them. Some members of a society might believe the disabled can not perform the same tasks as others and that when disabled people meet or exceed expectations they are treated as if their actions are courageous. NCWD believes this can lead to “regulating them to low-skill jobs, setting different job standards (sometimes lower standards which tend to alienate co-workers, sometimes higher standards to prove they cannot handle a job) or expecting a worker with a disability to appreciate the opportunity to work instead of demanding equal pay, equal benefits, equal opportunity and equal access to workplace amenities.”


Mateo Zeske has written professionally for over five years, including articles for "High School Sports," the industrial "How to Get Started with a Talent Agency" and community-oriented e-zines. As a filmmaker Zeske worked with production companies Hit It and Quit It, Road Dog Productions and masterminded the series "Bastardized Product." He holds a Master of Journalism from the University of North Texas.

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