An audio-language disability (ALS) diagnosis is a label for a variety of disabilities that impair the ability to speak, read, write, or communicate in spoken language.
An individual with an ALS diagnosis may be unable to understand spoken language, read or write, and can also be at risk for language impairments such as limited use of their left hand or hearing loss.
In order to improve communication, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and Columbia University (CUNY) conducted an audio-linguistic communication (ALS-LC) study to assess whether positive and negative stereotypes about ALS patients can be reduced.
The study, published in the journal Language Disability, found that participants who were labeled positive and positive stigma-free were more likely to avoid negative statements about ALS and avoid stereotyping.
Negative stereotypes were also reduced when participants were labeled negative stigma-unpositive.
Positive stigma-positive participants were more prone to label positive participants as lazy and incompetent, suggesting that positive stigma can affect people with ALS.
“A stereotype that people with disabilities are lazy, incompetent, or incompetent has a negative impact on how they perceive the lives of people with physical disabilities,” said the study’s lead author, Emily Wysocki, a PhD candidate in the USC School of Psychology.
The research team, which included a group of USC graduate students, also used audio-based tasks to examine the effect of negative stigma on participants’ understanding of ALS.
The researchers asked participants to indicate whether a person with an AL diagnosis is lazy or incompetent.
Participants who were assigned to the negative stigma condition were asked to imagine they were working with a colleague who is lazy, while participants who had been labeled positive stigma were asked if they believed that person was incompetent.
Both groups were then asked to rate how lazy they thought the person was on a scale of 0 to 10.
Participants in the negative stigmatization condition were also asked to evaluate whether the person with ALS was incompetent or lazy.
Participants’ attitudes about ALS were reduced when they were told that they were being evaluated for disability, but participants who received positive stigma still judged the person as incompetent.
Positive and negative stigma were correlated when participants heard that they could not use their left arm or hearing to read a message on a digital device, and negative and positive stereotyping was also correlated when they heard the word “sick” as part of a task.
Negative and positive stigmatization is the most common type of stigma, according to Wysampi.
“The more negative stereotypes that people associate with ALS, the more likely they are to dismiss the person,” she said.
Wysacki’s research team has previously found that negative stigma can impact people with certain kinds of disability.
In a 2013 study, for example, participants with a speech impairment who received negative stigma about their ability to read were more inclined to reject the person who is deaf as someone who cannot read and write.
Researchers hope their research will help inform the development of research that addresses how negative stigma affects the lives and work of people living with disabilities.
“People with ALS may have difficulty understanding their own words or understand that a person has a disability,” said Wysicki.
She noted that the researchers did not ask participants to recall how they perceived the person’s disability, which can be difficult for some people with an impairment.
The results of the study were also encouraging because the study showed that participants did not associate the stigma with their physical disability, so they were not negatively affected by it.
“It is not surprising that negative stereotypes might impact the way people with disability perceive each other and what they think others think about them,” Wysowi said.
The findings of the research were published in Language Disability.
The authors suggest that the positive stigma and negative stereotyping can be improved by training participants to perceive that a disability can be overcome.
“This research demonstrates that people who have disabilities are often misjudged as having these kinds of disabilities, and that positive stigmatizing stereotypes are not necessarily harmful, especially for people with intellectual disabilities,” Wynson said.
“Our research also suggests that positive and stigmatizing stigma can have positive effects on how people with different kinds of speech impairments interact, and could be useful in helping them improve their communication skills.”
For more information on language disability research, visit the American Psychological Association’s website.