Mature teacher playing piano and rehearsing song with children while they standing with notes around her in music class

McCarron, E., Curran, E., & McConkey, R. (2022). Changing Children’s Attitudes to Disability through Music: A Learning Intervention by Young Disabled Mentors. Disabilities, 2(1), 87-95.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About this Study

Creating a more inclusive society begins with fostering positive attitudes towards disability in childhood. However, children often absorb prejudices from previous generations, resulting in the exclusion of children with disabilities from regular activities. Recent efforts, influenced by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, have focused on enrolling children with disabilities in mainstream schools, leading to better social and educational outcomes. However, the success of this policy depends on schools adapting their practices and facilities. Previous research primarily focused on teachers’ attitudes and lacked attention to the voices of students. Contact with individuals with disabilities has consistently shown to promote positive attitudes, while interventions targeting empathy have been limited. To address this, ‘Project Sparks’ was developed, using personal interactions and music to nurture positive attitudes among 9- and 10-year-olds. Mentoring by young disabled adults in participatory music workshops aimed to create an engaging and non-verbal learning environment while countering negative stereotypes. This study evaluated the impact of this approach through pre- and post-project assessments of children’s perceptions of disability, feedback from parents and teachers. Researchers aimed to determine the impact on attitudes following the workshops and gather feedback on the intervention’s effectiveness from teachers and parents.

Key Findings:

  • Children with disabilities are at higher risk of social exclusion due to negative perceptions held by their peers.
  • After the school based project, pupils showed increased willingness to interact with children and individuals with disabilities, and were more open to having a teacher with a disability.
  • Parents and teachers confirmed the positive impact of the project on pupils’ attitudes and enthusiasm.
  • Teachers also noted that experience taught them more about disability and was particularly helpful for the disabled students in their classes who saw the mentors as role models.
  • Personal contact and enjoyable musical activities with competent disabled musicians were key factors in driving attitude change. Further research should explore the potential of mentoring in other arts and sports activities for validation of this approach.

Implications for Mentoring

This unique project that utilized disabled young people as music mentors in a school-based program demonstrated the significant impact of personal and active contact between children and individuals with disabilities. The use of music as a context for their interactions provided a relaxed and enjoyable environment, fostering confidence and positive attitudes among the participants. The project’s success was evident across multiple schools and classes, highlighting the potential for replication in different settings. The formation of relationships between mentors and children played a crucial role in attitude change, showcasing the importance of meaningful and enjoyable contact that demonstrates the competence of disabled individuals. While the study focused on a specific age group, future research should explore variations in social bonding through different shared activities and age groups. By incorporating such strategies, we can create more inclusive environments for children with disabilities, aligning with the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child’s vision for their active participation and dignity in society.

To read the full study, click here.