Measuring the Attitudes of Sighted College Students toward Blindness

By Meggie P. Rowland and Edward C. Bell

Meggie P. Rowland, B.A., is a counseling psychology doctoral student at Louisiana Tech University.

Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., serves as director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University.


It has long been suggested by education and rehabilitation professionals that more positive attitudes about blindness are associated with greater experiences and outcomes for individuals who are blind. This is equally true for the attitudes about blindness held by blind persons themselves as it is about the attitudes towards blindness held by the non-disabled community. This study investigated the attitudes towards blindness of 497 college undergraduate and graduate students, and compared those attitudes with those of 67 blind students of similar age. The results demonstrated support for the notion that greater exposure to persons who are blind yields more positive attitudes about blindness, and that blind students themselves hold more positive attitudes about blindness than do sighted students. Increased support for the efficacy of the Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS) was also found.


attitudes about blindness, public attitudes, measuring attitudes, college students, research


Attitudes have long been recognized as those deeply held, internalized beliefs about phenomena that shape how individuals think about themselves and society. Whether it is termed a gut reaction, a world view, predisposition, or assumption, it is the automatic thoughts that one has about other people, places, or things that are defined as attitudes. And, more importantly, it is the extent to which those attitudes are positive (favorable) or negative (unfavorable), that largely determines how individuals will engage with the person or item that is a subject of the attitude. According to Millington, Leierer, and Abadie, (2000) attitudes consist of two components—attitudes and expectations. Attitudes are defined as context-free generalized value statements; whereas expectations are defined as context-specific predictions of behavioral outcomes (Millington, et al., 2000). For professionals who work in education and rehabilitation of individuals who are blind, it is believed that the attitudes held about blindness—both those held by the blind person himself/herself as well as those held by the sighted public—play a critical role in the training and integration of blind people into society.

It is believed that both healthy psychological adjustment (Dodds, Bailey, Pearson & Yates, 1991) and acceptance of one’s disability (Snead & Davis, 2002) are necessary for successful rehabilitation. For the population of individuals who are blind, it is surmised that the world view, beliefs, and stereotypes that these individuals hold about the condition of blindness (i.e., their attitudes about blindness), may impact their self-esteem, motivation, and engagement in their rehabilitation. People with disabilities may battle low self-confidence as a result of attitudes held by people in society. These negative attitudes include views that disabled people are lacking, flawed, or incomplete (Rousso, 1984).

Misconceptions about blindness can be harmful to the blind population. In his book, Freedom for the Blind: The Secret is Empowerment, Omvig (2002b) discussed the importance of having appropriate expectations as a blind person. He stated that a blind person who has not been trained may buy into the societal belief that being blind makes a person inferior, incomplete, and helpless. The person may believe that being blind produces severe limitations in his or her life and that these limitations cannot be overcome. According to Omvig, these low expectations are detrimental to the blind person and can inhibit him or her from experiencing a healthy, well-integrated life. These harmful results are precisely the reason training facilities focus on teaching blind students how to learn to handle the public’s mistaken beliefs and behaviors (Omvig, 2002a). Johnson and Johnson (1991) found that short-term group counseling can be an effective method for teaching visually impaired adolescents to refute negative stereotypes and develop a healthy self-concept.

Attitudes about self resulting from one’s group identity have a significant and meaningful impact on how youth engage in life activities. As with race, gender, and a host of other characteristics, the way in which an individual feels about himself or herself in relation to those characteristics has been shown to produce a major impact on how he or she approaches life. Said another way, holding negative attitudes or miscon­ceptions about a population with which one personally identi­fies shapes the hopes, aspirations, and expectations one has for oneself (Bell, 2010). Youth who have disabilities often grow up in settings that limit their social interactions and experiences, promote dependency, and provide few opportunities to inter­act with normal peers who have the same disability (Beck-Winchatz & Riccobono, 2008).

Attitudes of Sighted People toward Disability

Attitudes held by the sighted public towards disabilities in general have a similar impact on the psychological well-being of people with disabilities as on people who are blind. For example, Hazzard (1983) examined the development of attitudes about disabilities in young children along with factors that influence resultant attitudes. Hazard discovered that one major deficit in children’s knowledge about people with disabilities appeared to be their adherence to the “pathetic” stereotype of the disabled person, embodying a view of people with disabilities as different, helpless, and distressed individuals who deserve or desire pity (Hazzard, 1983). Data demonstrated that children were more accepting of other children with disabilities in school activities (e.g., at lunch) than in more intimate, personal friendship activities (e.g., at sleepovers). Children and older youth who have disabilities are very sensitive to peer interactions and quickly pick up on reactions that peers have toward their disability. If they lack access to positive role models or mentors, it is possible that self-confidence and self-assurance may erode, and their dis­ability may become something that is shameful or negative (Bell, 2010). It is therefore important to identify these negative attitudes and to provide interventions that target negative associations with the disability.

Hergenrather and Rhodes (2007) found that the social context or closeness of a relationship (e.g. work relationship, dating relationship, or marriage relationship) with a disabled person impacts attitudes held by non-disabled undergraduates. Students were asked to imagine being in a work relationship with a person with a disability and to describe how comfortable they would be in such a relationship. Next, students were asked to imagine being in a dating relationship with a person with a disability and to describe their comfort level with this type of relationship. The same sequence was repeated with marriage relationship imagery. Authors of the study found that the closer the relationship imagined by the students (with marriage being the closest possible relationship), the more negative their attitudes toward disability became. In other words, the closer the relationship imagined with a person with a disability, the more uncomfortable/unwilling participants became about entering into such a relationship. It is apparent that attitudes such as these can have a negative impact on people with disabilities. Similar critical attitudes held by the public have been shown to deeply influence blind persons’ social adjustment as well (Marsh & Friedman, 1972).

Several factors have been shown to play a role in the formation of attitudes toward disability of the non-disabled population. Gender differences, for example, represent one influential factor. Research suggests that adolescent girls tend to have more positive attitudes toward people with disabilities than do adolescent boys (Bossaert, Colpin, Pijl, & Petry, 2011). Other research indicates that undergraduate males have more negative implicit attitudes toward disability than do undergraduate women (Chen, Ma, & Zhang, 2011). Seo and Chen (2009) found that women indicated more positive attitudes toward disability than men, adding to the current body of research suggesting that gender may be one factor for predicting attitudes. Another factor contributing to attitudes towards disability is the amount of previous exposure to a person with a disability.  According to Seo and Chen (2009), higher levels of previous exposure to people with disabilities were shown to predict more positive attitudes toward people with disabilities. Krahe and Altwasser (2006) also identified previous exposure to people with disabilities as an important variable in their study designed to measure the effect of three treatment groups (cognitive, behavioral, and combined cognitive-behavioral treatment) on negative attitudes toward people with disabilities. In their study, ninth grade student participants were randomly allocated to one of the three treatment intervention groups. Responses were gathered from participants at three different times: immediately prior to the start of the intervention, immediately following the intervention, and three months after the intervention. Krahe and Altwasser found combined cognitive-behavioral treatment to be the most effective method for changing negative attitudes toward people with disabilities.

Further research demonstrates that attitudes and misconceptions towards disability can be changed. Hunt and Hunt (2004) used an educational intervention to test the malleability of students’ attitudes toward disability. Participants consisted of undergraduate business students divided into two intervention groups in which a presentation about disabilities was given. The first group completed a pre- and post-test of attitudes before the presentation was given. The second group completed only the attitude post-test. One control group completed the pre- and post-tests without hearing the presentation, and a second control group completed only a post-test. Results indicated that by increasing knowledge about disability, undergraduate attitudes can be significantly changed in a positive way. These results support the notion that societal attitudes are originally learned from faulty misconceptions about disability in general.

Attitudes of Sighted People toward Blindness

Recent research specifically on attitudes toward blindness within the sighted population is limited; however, two early studies provide a basis for future attitude research with the sighted population. Marsh and Friedman (1972) conducted an intervention study with a sighted sample in which they attempted to improve sighted people’s perceptions of blindness. They suggested that three major stereotypes about blind people are held by the sighted population: that blind people should be given sympathy and pity, that blind people are either incapable or possess super-human abilities in their remaining senses, and that all blind people share similar interests. In an effort to break these misguided stereotypes, the researchers organized an intervention group for freshmen high school students called the Vision Education Program. After five training sessions, results from an attitude scale indicated that sighted students' perceptions of blind students were more correct than those found in a pretest, suggesting that stereotypes and attitudes toward blindness can be changed with effective educational interventions.

In another early study, Courington, Lambert, Becker, Ludlow, and Wright (1983) compared attitudes toward blindness among three groups: rehabilitation-trained blind persons, rehabilitation workers, and sighted adults with no previous experience with blind persons. Participants were given the Attitudes toward Blindness Questionnaire. Results indicated that blind participants agreed with negative stereotypes about blindness, but they also believed that being blind made them “better” people. In general, sighted participants believed typical misconceptions about blindness, such as the inability of a blind person to be happy or to hold a good job and work efficiently. Rehabilitation workers’ responses fell in the middle on the attitude scale, suggesting that perhaps they were more realistic in their understanding of the blind. These results prompt the need for further research to validate current attitudes held about blindness both in the population of individuals who are themselves blind as well as in the general public.

Measuring Attitudes about Blindness

The limited research on attitudes toward blindness verifies the importance of conducting studies with this population. Bell and Silverman (2011) began this process by developing an attitude scale of blindness which is specifically designed to be appropriate for both blind and sighted populations. The Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS) is designed to measure attitudes toward blindness and can be used to analyze the success of interventions for the blind as well as the sighted. Because attitude scales are at risk for socially desirable responding, Bell made an effort to control this variable by changing the name of the scale from Attitudes about Blindness Scale, an explicit declaration of an attitude measure, to Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale, a more general description of the measure. Bell and Silverman (2011) completed research in which the scale was used with a sample of blind youth; however, the scale has not been investigated yet in the sighted population. Therefore, an exploration of the SRBS among a sighted population is the primary purpose of the present study.

In the present study, the sighted participants’ scores on the SRBS in the current study were compared to data collected in two prior administrations of the SRBS to blind individuals (Bell & Silverman, 2011). The relationship between the sighted participants’ attitudes about blindness from the current study and the blind participants’ attitudes about blindness from the study by Bell and Silverman (2011) was examined. Additionally, the internal consistency of the SRBS was examined in the sample of sighted college students. The following hypotheses were tested:

H1: Blind students’ attitudes about blindness will be more positive than sighted students’ attitudes about blindness.

H2: Sighted women will have more positive attitudes about blindness than sighted men.

H3: Sighted students with previous exposure to blind individuals will have more positive attitudes than sighted students with little or no previous exposure to blind individuals.

H4: The SRBS will be as internally consistent in the sighted sample as it was in the blind sample.



Participants were recruited from a mid-size southern university. Four hundred ninety-nine sighted undergraduate and graduate students chose to participate after being recruited through announcements in their classes. In some classes, extra credit was offered to students who chose to participate. Data from a total of 497 participants were included in the final analysis. Specifically, results included data from 192 sighted males and 302 sighted females of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds. The sample included 378 participants between the ages of 17-24, 60 participants between the ages of 25-34, and 27 participants between the ages of 35-61. Three hundred sixty-five participants reported Caucasian ethnicity, 87 participants reported African American ethnicity, and 13 reported Hispanic ethnicity. Fifteen participants reported Asian ethnicity, and 16 participants reported “Other” as their ethnicity. The sample included 411 undergraduate students, 73 graduate students, and 13 participants who reported no longer being a student. Additional information about participant demographics and scores on the SRBS appears in Table 1.

Table 1.  Participant Demographics, Means, & Standard Deviations on the Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale

































Ethnic Group








     African American




















Student Status




















Academic Major












     Liberal Arts








     Applied & Natural













Participants completed the Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS) (Bell & Silverman, 2011), which was used as a measure of their attitudes about blindness. The scale includes 20 self-report items evaluated on a 5-point Likert scale with 1= Strongly Agree and 5= Strongly Disagree. Scores on the SRBS range from 20-100, with increasingly higher scores indicating more positive attitudes toward blindness. A pilot study by Bell and Silverman (2011) tested the internal consistency of the scale in a sample of 67 blind youth between the ages of 16 and 26. Cronbach’s Coefficient Alpha based on prior administration of the SRBS was (raw = .874, standardized =.863) (Bell & Silverman, 2011).

In addition, the likelihood of socially desirable responses was measured in the sample of sighted students using the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, Form C (Reynolds, 1982). The scale contains 13 true/false items designed to assess response bias of respondents who may answer questions in a prescribed way in order to appear more socially acceptable than they actually feel. Reynolds reported that the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, Form C has adequate reliability (r = .76) and high validity (r =.93). The scale was inadvertently omitted from data collected on a majority of sighted graduate students. Consequently, social desirability was assessed for only the undergraduate portion of the sample.


Prior to data collection, approval for this study was obtained through the University’s Institutional Review Board. Undergraduate and graduate participants were recruited through announcements made in their university classes. All participants were informed of the purpose of the study and were told that participation was voluntary and anonymous. Participants were given a link to the online survey which consisted of basic demographic questions, the Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (Bell & Silverman, 2011), and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, Form C (Reynolds, 1982). Upon going to the link, participants gave informed consent and completed the survey which took approximately 10 minutes.


Results of this study indicate several important findings for the field of blindness research.  Outcomes suggest significant differences in attitude scores between the sighted and blind samples, as well as significant differences in attitude scores between the genders. Results also indicate significant differences in attitude scores among varying levels of exposure to blind persons, and internal consistency of the SRBS is noted. 

Two participants’ scores on the SRBS were 3 standard deviations above or below the mean, categorizing them as extreme outliers, and their data were deleted from the analysis.

The non-parametric Mann Whitney U test was used to compare attitude scores from the sighted and blind samples. The non-parametric Mann Whitney U was used because the assumption of homogeneity of variance required for using a parametric test was not met. As predicted, results indicated that SRBS scores from the sighted student sample (M = 56.24; Mdn = 56.00, SD = 8.55) were significantly lower (more negative) than scores from the sample of blind participants (M = 76.62; Mdn = 77.00, SD = 13.39), U = 15195.50, z = -17.837, p = .000,
r = -.64, d = 1.86.

Also as predicted, sighted females (M = 57.03, SD = 14.28) in the sample were found to have significantly higher (more positive) attitudes toward blindness than sighted males (M=55.04, SD = 14.46), F(1, 492) = 6.440, p = .011, η² = .013, d = 0.14.

As predicted, results indicated significant differences in SRBS scores among sighted students with different levels of previous exposure to a person who is blind, F(6, 489) = 69.08, p = .000, η² = .078.  Specifically, students who reported no previous experience with blindness (M=54.40, SD = 7.43) had a lower (more negative) mean score than students who reported having a blind acquaintance (M=60.27, SD = 8.84), a blind friend (M=61.32, SD = 9.52), or a close blind friend (M=64.57, SD = 12.29). In addition, students who reported having had experience with a person who is blind “only from a distance” (M = 54.12, SD = 7.93) had a significantly lower (more negative) mean score than students who reported having had a conversation with a person who is blind (M=57.16, SD = 7.77), having a blind acquaintance, a blind friend, or a close blind friend. The relationships between levels of experience with blind individuals and SRBS scores in this sample are displayed in Figure 1 and are described in detail in Table 2.

Figure 1.  Mean SRBS Scores for Varying Levels of Previous Experience with Blindness

The first graph bar, labeled “No,” measures just above 54; the second graph bar, labeled “Dist,” measures at 54; the third graph bar, labeled “Conv.,” measures at 57 (or just above); the fourth graph bar, labeled “Acq.,” measures just above 60; the fifth graph bar, labeled “Friend,” measures at 61 (or just above); the sixth graph bar, labeled “Close Friend,” measures just above 64; the seventh and final graph bar, labeled “Family,” measures close to 57.

Table 2.  Participant Levels of Exposure to Blindness & Corresponding Mean Scores on the SRBS

Exposure Level










Only from a Distance





Had a Conversation














Family Member




Results of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, Form C analysis indicated 69 participants whose scores on the Marlowe-Crowne were above or below 1.5 standard deviations from the mean. When these outliers were removed, mean SRBS scores and significance levels did not change significantly.

When measuring the internal consistency of the SRBS between the sighted sample and the blind sample, results indicated that the blind sample had higher internal consistency (Cronbach’s Alpha raw = .854, standardized = .850) than the sighted sample (Cronbach’s Alpha raw = .758, standardized = .764). The combined internal consistency of both samples was Cronbach’s Alpha raw = .895, standardized = .893, indicating adequate internal consistency.


Higher SRBS scores were found in the blind sample than in the sighted sample, a finding that confirms the investigators’ prediction and corresponds with previous research on attitudes toward disability (Seo & Chen, 2009). This suggests that indeed, people who are blind have more positive attitudes toward blindness than people who are sighted. One reason for this finding may be that people who are blind and have been trained in becoming independent have personal experience to draw from that has positively influenced their perspective and attitude toward blindness. Because most people who are sighted do not have personal experience with blindness and are not aware of the level of independence readily achieved by people who are blind, they may not have the same positive attitudes or expectations regarding the capacity of blind people.

As predicted, females had significantly more positive attitudes toward blindness than males. These results follow the trend in the literature about attitudes toward disabilities (Seo & Chen, 2009; Bossaert et al, 2011) and may be explained by the cultural norms of nurture and caring usually expressed by women in our society. It should be noted, however, that although the gender difference was statistically significant, there was only about a two point difference in mean scores, calling into question whether this divergence actually represents meaningful differences in attitudes towards blindness between men and women.

The results also demonstrate a general increase in SRBS scores as a function of the increased level of previous experience (refer to Figure 1). This suggests that more personal experience with a blind person increases positive attitudes and expectations about blindness in general. However, as is also shown in Figure 1, while attitudes increased with exposure, they then dropped off somewhat for those persons who had a blind person in their family. This unexpected result may be influenced by participants’ limited experience in a personally emotive relationship with a person who is blind. For example, participants’ attitudes toward blindness could have been negatively influenced if they had experience with a family member who lost his or her vision at an older age (e.g. grandmother, grandfather) and never became an independent person who is blind, and/or if the blind person was generally seen by the family members as needing significant amounts of assistance with basic daily living skills.

Results of the Marlowe-Crowne analysis indicated that social desirability did not significantly play into participants’ answers on the SRBS. Outlier demographics were very similar to non-outlier demographics, and outlier mean scores on the SRBS did not differ from non-outlier mean SRBS scores. This is encouraging because it suggests that overall, the results of the attitude scores in this study were not biased by social desirability and/or experimenter expectancy. This may potentially be another benefit of anonymous online surveys, (i.e., total anonymity from the investigators, making participants feel comfortable to answer questions honestly).

It was predicted that the internal consistency of the scale during the current study (A=.75) would be equivalent to the study by Bell and Silverman (2011), (A=.85). While the Coefficient Alpha in this study was still acceptable, it was substantially less than in the prior study. It is not entirely clear why this difference exists. It is possible that the sighted sample’s limited amount of exposure to or knowledge about a person who is blind could have caused more ambiguity in how the questions on the scale were answered. In fact, subsequent analysis of these data demonstrated that the internal consistency was quite a bit lower for those who had no exposure (A=.78), only from a distance (A=.76), or just had a conversation (A=.70). In contrast, internal consistency was much stronger if the person had a blind friend (A=.82), a close friend (A=.89), or a family member who was blind (A=.83). These data suggest that internal consistency (i.e., reliability of responses) is somewhat dependent on at least some meaningful exposure to individuals who are blind.

The investigators of this study are interested in further developing the Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale. Future research will include studies conducted using the SRBS to investigate the internal consistency of the scale within both sighted and blind samples from the community and around the United States. Future research also will include the design of intervention methods to change uninformed attitudes about blind individuals’ capabilities.

Implications for Practitioners

There are several pieces of information from this study that have direct implications for practitioners.

First, as is indicated by the background literature, sufficient evidence already exists to demonstrate that negative attitudes about people with disabilities (including those who are blind) results in decreased likelihood to engage with blind people in meaningful ways (e.g., socially, intimately, educationally, or vocationally).

Second, the background literature also demonstrates that attitudes can be changed in a more positive direction through activities that are aimed at increasing exposure to individuals who are blind in meaningful ways.

Third, the current study supported the existing research by further substantiating that increased exposure to individuals who are blind is associated with more positive attitudes about blindness.

Fourth, this study also demonstrated that blind students as a group had significantly better attitudes than did sighted students who were similarly situated. The importance of this fact suggests that more programs should be developed that are specifically designed to increase the exposure of sighted individuals to their blind counterparts, to demystify blindness, and increase positive exposure.

Finally, although this study did not investigate employment or educational outcomes, it is clear from the research and the data that increasing positive attitudes of blind persons themselves and their sighted counterparts is an important part of any educational or rehabilitation program. Results of the current study indicate the SRBS as a useful measure of attitudinal change in both sighted and blind populations and as an aid for educational and rehabilitation efforts.


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