SENSES - Evaluation of an experiential school intervention to counter stereotypes towards persons with visual disabilities
According to a recent ISTAT report, there are more than 300,000 pupils with disabilities attending Italian schools. Their incidence stands at 3.6% of the total number of students and has been steadily increasing over the last few years, in part due to the greater attention paid to diagnosing and certifying disability conditions among young people and to the growing sensitivity of the education system towards the issue of social inclusion at school. In order for these students to reach their full potential, an inclusive school environment is needed, in addition to personalised support. Their peers need to acquire a good knowledge of visual impairment and to relate to their blind or visually impaired peers without prejudice, but with awareness and information. What are the most effective interventions to achieve this goal, however, remains a largely unanswered question that this project seeks to answer.
The project evaluated an innovative school-based intervention. Approximately 350 students from three high schools in the province of Trento (Liceo Rosmini in Rovereto, ITT Buonarroti in Trento and Istituto Don Milani in Rovereto) had the opportunity during the 2021/2022 school year to learn about and test firsthand the orientation strategies and aids available for persons with visual impairment. Participants also enjoyed a “snack in the dark” on board the “Dark on the Road”, AbilNova’s special restaurant truck in complete darkness. Here blind and visually impaired waiters, in a reversal of roles, guided students in learning about visual impairment and rediscovering the power of the other senses.
The evaluation of the intervention was conducted through a randomized controlled trial, in which students were randomly assigned to a treatment group and a control group. Students in the first group participated in the aforementioned intervention before the follow-up survey. The rest of the students were also given this opportunity but only after the follow-up survey.
Significant positive effects were recorded on various dimensions of interest: (I) the level of knowledge about visual impairment, (ii) the propensity to put oneself in the shoes of other people, and (iii) the belief that persons with visual impairment can lead a life qualitatively similar to that of individuals without impairment.
On the other hand, the results of the evaluation highlighted that this intervention did not produce significant effects on implicit beliefs, the propensity to want to interact socially with blind people and to be more altruistic toward them.
Overall, then, the research taught us that through awareness-raising interventions, positive effects for what concern countering stereotypes that prevent full social inclusion of people with visual impairments.