UMass Boston

Past Projects

National Survey of Consumer Attitudes Documenting Consumer Support for Businesses that Hire Individuals with Disabilities

Students and adults with disabilities, particularly with intellectual disabilities (ID), are often challenged in the school and the work settings by negative attitudes and misperceptions. Presently, major advances are being made to improve the social skills of adolescents in the school setting as well as in the preparation of students with disabilities to transition into the workforce. However, teachers, counselors, and potential employers continually underestimate the competence of individuals with disabilities, in particular those individuals with ID. As a result, future employers often have low expectations for a potential employee with a disability, and thus are a formidable barrier to their future employment.

In the summer of 2003, CSDE partnered with the America's Strength Foundation (ASF) to conduct "A national survey of consumer attitudes toward companies that hire individuals with disabilities." In contrast to research focusing on the attitudes of employers, this study is one of the first to examine the attitudes of consumers toward companies that hire people with disabilities. The survey included 803 adults who were randomly selected across the continental U.S. It was conducted with help from the Center for Survey Research and the Gallup Organization.

CSDE researchers found an overwhelmingly positive attitude among consumers toward socially responsible companies, and in particular toward those that hire individuals with disabilities. Ninety-two percent of consumers surveyed felt more favorable toward companies that hire individuals with disabilities and 87 percent said they would prefer to give their business to such companies. Seventy-five percent of respondents reported that they had either worked directly with someone with a disability and/or received services as a customer from a person with a disability. Ninety-one percent of those with a disabled coworker said that the job performance of his or her coworker was "very good" or "good." Ninety-eight percent of those who had been served by a disabled worker were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the services they received. The study was published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation (IOS Press).

Family School Autism Project

Over the past decade, a dramatic increase has occurred in the number of individuals identified with autism, with the U.S. Department of Education reporting an astonishing six-fold increase in the number of children receiving special education services in the public schools. This unprecedented increase has had a major impact on families, school systems, and state agencies as they struggle to cope with the difficulties of educating and providing care for this rapidly expanding group of moderately to severely impaired children.

In an attempt to help school systems meet this challenge, in late 2001, Dr. Paul Benson, associate professor of sociology and senior research associate at CSDE, and Dr. Gary Siperstein were awarded an initial grant from the U.S. Department of Education to begin a major longitudinal study of parent involvement in educational programs for children with autism. The rationale for the project was predicated on the fact that while educators view educational involvement as an essential component of programs for autistic children, such involvement is often a very difficult to achieve and sustain due to the heavy care-giving demands placed on parents. Thus, educators are faced with a dilemma of how to actively engage parents in the education of their children without increasing family stress and burden. As part of the initial grant, data was collected over a four-year period from 107 families and 150 teachers drawn from thirty-six school systems or multi-system special education programs located in the Greater Boston area.

Study findings to date present an intriguing portrait of the project’s cohort of children and families, and of the variety of ways that parents participate in the education of their children with autism. For example, over the course of the grant period, substantial improvement in functioning was observed in approximately one-third of the autistic children participating in the project. Improvement was most likely to be observed in children whose parents were most involved in actively promoting their child’s learning and development at home during non-school hours. The extent of assistance provided to families, by teachers, home trainers, and other school personnel were found to play a critical role in promoting educational involvement by parents.

Moving to Middle School

Public schools have been directed to increase the standards by which they teach and assess students, particularly those at the middle and high school levels. The increase in expectations and standards has in turn placed many more students at risk for failure. CSDE began a research study in 2001 to help schools help students adjust to the growing complexity and demands of school.

Bridges to Success was conducted in four middle schools in the greater Boston area and involved school-wide orientation activities, as well as the development and delivery of a curriculum for sixth-grade students that included helping develop better study and organizational skills, time management, communication skills, problem solving, anger management, and stress management techniques.

Qualitatively, the response from schools to this curriculum has been overwhelmingly positive. The Bridges to Success Curriculum has been extensively revised based on feedback received from teachers and was published as Moving to Middle School: Life Skills and Coping Skills for Successful Student Transition by Jalmar Press in 2002.

Promoting Social Success

The fundamental shift toward inclusion in our schools and in the larger society has been transforming the social and academic experiences of children with disabilities. Along with unprecedented opportunities, the newly mandated policies aimed at ensuring universal access to the general education curriculum pose considerable and perhaps unprecedented social challenges for children with intellectual disabilities. As children with intellectual disabilities become full-fledged members of the general education classroom and school community, these children are expected to interact flexibly and adaptively with more cognitively advanced peers.

CSDE initiated the Promoting Social Success project in order to equip children with intellectual disabilities to meet today’s social challenges by providing teachers with an instructional program, specifically designed for this population of students, that reflects a social-cognitive theoretical approach. By designing an instructional program in accordance with recent theories and research findings in social cognition, we best equip students with intellectual disabilities to meet the main social challenge of the classroom—the challenge of “social adaptation" (the capacity to continually adjust one’s behavior to fit varied and ever-changing social circumstances.)

Results of the evaluation of the impact of the PSS intervention provide evidence that a social-cognitive approach to social skills instruction can be effective in improving the social behavior of students with cognitive limitations. Overall, 64% of the students who participated in the intervention showed improvements in social behavior, either in teacher ratings of their social skills or in observed social behavior. This research led to the publication of Promoting Social Success: A Social Skills Curriculum for Students with Special Needs (Brookes 2003.)

Impact of the "Get Into It" Program on the Social Inclusion of Students with Disabilities             

Get Into It is a compilation of educational resources for K-12 educators, developed by Special Olympics, Inc. It explores issues surrounding inclusion, diversity, and social justice for all with a particular emphasis on individuals with disabilities through a variety of lessons and activities. The CSDE has focused on the national roll out of this program and its use by teachers at the national level. The evaluation of Get Into It will provide information on the promotion, design, and delivery of Get Into It in K-12 educational environments and aid in the continued development and adaptation of Get Into It in the future. During the 2011-2012 school year, 116 teachers completed an online survey detailing their use and benefits of the programs in their school. Furthermore, an additional 10 schools were evaluated through site visits. Current data is being analyzed from the survey methods and qualitative data from teacher interviews and classroom observations is being reviewed for salient themes that presented themselves across schools.

For more information about Get Into It, please read:


Center for Social Development and Education

10th Floor, Healey Library,
100 Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA 02125 USA