College Psychology Students May Not Learn About Disabilities

College students in lecture hall classCollege psychology classes—which may introduce future therapists to the field—often lack information about people with disabilities, according to a study published in Teaching of Psychology.

Introductory psychology classes are among the most popular on college campuses, and many colleges require at least one psychology class in their general curriculum.

Disabilities pose numerous psychological challenges, and people with disabilities represent one of the largest minority groups in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people—almost 1 in 5 adults—had a disability in 2010. People with disabilities may face discrimination as well as a heightened risk of secondary mental health concerns such as depression.

Inadequate Disability Education in College Psychology Classes

Researchers reviewed course descriptions of nearly 700 psychology classes in 98 high-ranking undergraduate psychology programs. Though every program offered a course on psychiatric disabilities, just eight offered classes on physical disabilities—even though chronic health issues and physical disabilities are significantly more common.

Disability courses also focused on a medical model of disability, providing students with information on treatment, management, and diagnosis. Thanks in part to various movements for disability rights, this model is changing.

Particularly in the fields of psychology and social work, providers often focus on reducing prejudice, eliminating the notion that a disability is a defect, and encouraging autonomy among people with disabilities. Students who only learn about treatment or diagnosis may miss important information about reducing stigma, integrating people with disabilities into the community, and advocating for people with disabilities.

The study’s authors suggest a better approach would be to make disability studies a part of the larger psychology curriculum, rather than relegating disability topics to special classes. Because almost everyone interacts with a person with a disability at some point, the researchers say it is especially important to provide information about disabilities in introductory courses. This may require additional training for psychology faculty members or new textbooks containing updated information on physical disabilities.


  1. College psychology classes lack curriculum about disabilities. (2016, February 23). Retrieved from
  2. Disability rights. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability in the U.S. (2012, July 25). Retrieved from
  4. Related conditions. (2014, March 31). Retrieved from
  5. Rosa, N. M., Bogart, K. R., Bonnett, A. K., Estill, M. C., & Colton, C. E. (2015). Teaching about disability in psychology: An analysis of disability curricula in U.S. undergraduate psychology programs. Teaching of Psychology, 43(1), 59-62. doi:10.1177/0098628315620885
  6. Study: Disabilities underrepresented in college psychology classes. (2016, February 24). Retrieved from

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  • Greg


    February 25th, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    So I would think that it could be awfully difficult to go in and do a complete overhaul of every single psychology college program that is out there. I think that a big part of this is going to be done one school at a time taking a close look at what the crux of their program really aims to teach and then go from there in terms of introducing new topics and learning opportunities for their students.

  • Bella F

    Bella F

    February 25th, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    Until we as a profession become more vocal about this then nothing is going to change anytime soon

  • morgan


    February 26th, 2016 at 1:11 PM

    This is sad on so many levels. We look at how far we have come in many different academic areas and at first we think that we have done so well. And we have, there has been giant progress over the years. But there also comes a time like now when you have to admit that we could always be doing more, that there is definitely more that we could do to include more and to improve the outlook and the overall education that our students are receiving. It is not enough to stop now. We have progressed, but now it is time to challenge those boundaries once again and take a good hard look at the new things that also have to be included.

  • Maisie


    February 27th, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    In many respects any change that is forthcoming is going to be based on how loudly the voices are that are advocating for these changes to take place.
    If those voices are silent then the programs will continue to be taught only as they are today and helping those with disabilities will come to be seen as irrelevant, or there will be very little care available to them.
    Now that is sad.

  • Mia


    February 28th, 2016 at 3:26 PM

    But there are going to be many students for whom this was the driving reason behind pursuing this degree field in the first place.

    Even if this is something that they are not specifically exposed to in the undergraduate world, they can always do shadowing with those who work in this area and they could also consider pursuing their masters work in that field of study.

    You can not allow the limitations in one area deprive you in your ultimate pursuit of your work.

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