Are Implicit Biases Underlying Negative Impressions of the Disabled?

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  • Author Robin Akins
  • Published November 25, 2023
  • Word count 2,210

Implicit Biases Role in Negative Perceptions of the Disabled

Implicit biases greatly influence an individual’s perceptions. Such biases are underlying attitudes and associations. These biases have a significant impact on the behavior towards different social groups. While preferences related to race, gender, and other characteristics are commonly addressed, it is crucial to explore the realm of implicit biases against individuals with disabilities. Implicit biases infiltrate societal convictions and contribute significantly to maintaining damaging stereotypes and discriminatory actions against those with disabilities (American Bar Association, 2023). How do these hidden prejudices contribute to unfavorable opinions about people with disabilities and affect their employment opportunities, interpersonal relationships, and overall societal interactions? This article aims to address these questions by examining the essence of implicit prejudices and their particular effects on individuals with disabilities.

Understanding Implicit Bias

The subconscious is susceptible to implicit bias, which is influenced by societal factors, cultural stereotypes, and our own personal encounters. These biases are frequently ingrained in an individual from a young age through exposure to the media, familial beliefs, and social conventions. Although they exist unknowingly, implicit biases profoundly affect how one makes decisions and perceives and engages with those around us. According to Kendra (2023), unconscious prejudices can target diverse social demographics, including but not limited to racial and ethnic minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, etc. These biases may result in unintentional discrimination by associating specific attributes or capabilities to one particular group. Implicit bias can significantly impact recruitment, advancements, and appraisals within professional environments.

Furthermore, implicit bias can shape interactions in medical contexts, which may result in unequal treatment based on ethnic background or other distinguishing traits. Higher education facilities could also witness implicit bias' effects reflected in grading procedures and student evaluations. Consciously acknowledging and resolving implicit bias entails cultivating self-awareness, acquiring knowledge, and intentionally challenging and altering biased perspectives. Diligently mitigating implicit bias is a continuous journey that demands dedication from individuals and institutions. By confronting these biases, society can progress towards increased equity, compassion, and equal prospects for all.

Origins of Implicit Bias

The human mind is continuously influenced by unconscious biases fueled by a combination of external factors and its innate functioning. Kendra (2023) mentions that the brain's organic tendency toward identifying environmental patterns and connections is a fundamental contributor to these involuntary prejudices. This innate inclination plays a crucial role in social cognition, allowing us to store, analyze, and apply knowledge about individuals within social contexts. However, the mind's inclination to connect with the surrounding environment may unintentionally cultivate prejudiced perspectives. The brain's inclination towards simplifying complex information can be seen as an additional element in developing implicit bias (Lucas et al., 2019). With an overwhelming amount of daily information bombardment, the brain must find ways to streamline its processing. Accordingly, cognitive shortcuts are a valuable tool for navigating this extensive data landscape.

Furthermore, implicit biases are strongly influenced by individual experiences and societal indoctrination. While personal encounters may not directly instill biased attitudes, cultural upbringing, media representations, and childhood development all hold significant roles. The setting in which one is brought up, the absorption of media messages, and the integration of cultural standards combine to foster implicit connections with members of diverse social groups. Acknowledging these contributing factors makes it apparent that implicit bias is a multidimensional occurrence closely intertwined with the complexities of human thought and societal pressures. The question arises: How can we steer towards increased consciousness of biases and actively strive to reduce their influence on thoughts and behaviors? This inquiry underscores the significance of cultivating self-awareness and promoting social introspection to combat implicit biases and foster inclusivity.

The Impact of Implicit Bias

Unconscious, implicit biases, though not willfully conceived and malevolent in nature, significantly impact behavior (Roberts, 2011). The bias profoundly impacts the myriad facets of personal and communal interactions. The repercussions of these biases transcend individual consciousness, shaping perspectives and actions toward others. Trust and assistance play a vital role in the impact of implicit biases. Whether positive or negative, an individual's unconscious associations significantly affect willingness to trust and help individuals. Those who align with positive biases often receive more support and trust than those who associate with negative biases. This phenomenon may incite a self-reinforcing cycle in which individuals harboring favorable implicit biases are afforded greater chances, particularly in their professional pursuits, thus perpetuating a cycle of advantage.

Implicit biases have a considerable impact in the realm of institutional oppression, for instance, racism (Osta & Vasquez, 2019). These predispositions wield substantial influence in maintaining and perpetuating disparities within society. Those who subscribe to favorable biases are more prone to receiving prospects, advancements, and privileges across diverse domains, further contributing to discrepancies in crucial arenas such as employment, education, and healthcare. Individuals with affirmative implicit biases occupying positions of authority exacerbate these biases in society, perpetuating a systemic advantage for select groups. The consequences of implicit biases are especially significant when considering the experiences of individuals with disabilities (Roberts, 2011). Properly comprehending how these biases surface and contribute to societal discrepancies is imperative in promoting a more encompassing and just environment. Thus, recognizing the influence of implicit bias highlights the crucial need to confront and minimize these prejudices actively. Through promoting consciousness and taking proactive measures against biased inclinations, society can strive for amplified impartiality, egalitarianism, and equal prospects for every individual, regardless of their encounters with implicit prejudices. How can we collectively disrupt this recurrence, guaranteeing that opportunities and achievements are not unduly shaped by implicit biases but instead based on abilities and potential? This inquiry incites introspection into the essential measures for fostering a more fair and all-encompassing society.

Implicit Bias against Disabilities: A Disturbing Reality

The contrast in employment rates between individuals with and without disabilities reflects the pervasive presence of latent prejudices deeply embedded within the workplace. Indeed, the 2021 Survey of Public Perceptions of the Disabled reveals that 64 % of non-disabled individuals held employment the previous year, and only 19 %of those with disabilities could obtain work (Cogentica, 2022). This is especially concerning as it highlights the perseverance of such biases even when specifically accounting for respondents who have disabilities, underscoring the inherent systemic nature of this problem. The underlying implications indicate a significant influence on employment procedures, advancements, and the overall atmosphere in the workplace. In addition to the general data, a more thorough analysis of the hiring procedure, accommodations within the workplace, and chances for career growth are necessary to unravel the intricacies of these prejudices.

The educational system is also impacted by implicit biases, resulting in significant disparities in graduation rates. Cogentica (2022) shows that disabled individuals have almost an 18 percent lower chance of graduating. That prompts a crucial analysis of classroom dynamics, teacher expectations, and institutional support to determine how implicit biases impact grading practices and accessibility to resources for disabled students. It is critical to comprehend these subtleties to formulate precise interventions within educational systems. That requires reevaluating inclusive pedagogical approaches, adaptations that accommodate varying learning requirements, and a dedication to cultivating an academic atmosphere that recognizes and uplifts disabled students throughout their academic pursuits.

Implicit biases also have a profound, multifaceted influence on the complex issue of homelessness and mental health in disabled populations. 40% of homeless people possess some disability, accentuating how ingrained prejudices and structural problems intersect to create dire outcomes (Cogentica, 2022). Furthermore, it has been established that individuals with disabilities are at least two to ten times more prone to experiencing depression (Cogentica, 2022). Thus, it is crucial to implement specific measures in housing policies and mental health support systems, as these statistics highlight the pressing necessity. Solving homelessness entails dismantling ingrained prejudices that fuel housing discrimination, whereas tackling mental health issues demands a comprehensive strategy that confronts social attitudes and strengthens support networks.

The statistics about employment and education reflect overarching societal patterns, signifying the urgency for comprehensive reform. Within the workforce, these statistics expose a disparity and reflect and perpetuate societal biases, creating a cycle of marginalization. How can businesses actively eradicate these biases by implementing inclusive recruitment methods, offering necessary accommodations, and promoting workplace environments that embrace diversity? Creating a conducive environment for individuals with disabilities to flourish demands more than just numerical considerations; it necessitates a paradigm shift in organizational attitudes and practices.

Unmasking Implicit Biases

Implicit biases operate subconsciously, but how can individuals become aware of them and initiate change? There is a need for assessments accessible through the internet, encompassing those about capability. These resources serve as a guided exploration into one's subconscious mind, granting individuals valuable insights into their preconceptions about disability. Center for Responsive Schools (2022) asserts that individuals attain a more profound comprehension of their latent convictions by engaging in these evaluations, granting access to subsequent introspection and progression. In addition, with widespread access to digital resources, individuals can engage in specialized examinations that aim to reveal prejudices tailored toward disabilities. These assessments surpass broad classifications and investigate intricate facets of disability biases, proffering tailored revelations into subconscious ideologies. The wide-ranging scope of these evaluations guarantees a thorough exploration of various dimensions encompassing physical abilities, cognitive variances, and psychological well-being. This focused methodology enables individuals to acquire a more sophisticated comprehension of their prejudices, nurturing a more comprehensive mindset toward inclusivity.

In addition to formal evaluations, promoting consciousness of implicit prejudices towards disabilities entails an ongoing practice of challenging assumptions. When encountering an individual with disabilities, pause to reflect: What initial sentiments are triggered? What suppositions are formed regarding their capacity, intellect, or self-sufficiency? Deliberately interrogating these initial perceptions is vital in acknowledging and pinpointing underlying predispositions. This introspective action acts as a self-examination, enabling individuals to confront and recognize their unconscious attitudes.

In order to identify the underlying prejudices, it is also imperative to transcend clichéd ideas and recognize individuals with disabilities as distinct, multifaceted beings. Taking the time to acquaint oneself with them intimately can significantly disrupt preconceived assumptions. Discover their passions, inclinations, and individual narratives. Understanding their lived realities and viewpoints presents a counterpoint to dominant prejudices. This empathetic method facilitates dismantling stereotypes and cultivates understanding, forming a basis for confronting and altering subconscious biases.

Proactively pursuing direct interactions with individuals with disabilities proves to be a potent approach to unearthing and disrupting underlying prejudices. Engaging in dialogues, partaking in inclusive actions, and fully immersing oneself in multifaceted settings opens avenues for bearing witness to the diverse capacities, skills, and viewpoints within the disabled community. Individuals can confront biases through active participation and listening, gaining direct experiences that promote a more knowledgeable and compassionate understanding.

Strategies for Reducing Implicit Bias

In the context of implicit bias against disabled individuals, fostering understanding, dismantling stereotypes, and promoting inclusivity in healthcare are crucial objectives that necessitate the implementation of practical strategies. These techniques revolve around education, exposure, and a systematic approach, which prove pivotal in achieving these goals (Edgoose et al., 2019).


Taking part in custom implicit bias evaluations for disabilities empowers healthcare providers to reveal hidden convictions that might impact medical choices. Through actively engaging in these assessments, clinicians can recognize and remedy potential lapses, advancing a more well-informed and impartial approach to treating patients.


Healthcare professionals must actively engage with counter-stereotypes when interacting with individuals who are disabled. Practicing perspective-taking through real-life encounters or immersive activities such as reading novels or watching documentaries strengthens empathy and challenges stereotypes, leading to a more compassionate and knowledgeable approach toward healthcare provision (Edgoose et al., 2019).

The Approach

Utilizing systematic methods is critical to combatting prejudice towards disabled individuals in healthcare environments. It is imperative to carefully review all messaging, as intentionally including messages that embrace diversity and inclusivity helps establish a welcoming atmosphere. By implementing equality standards, healthcare organizations can proactively confront and dismantle ingrained biases, ultimately promoting equal access to quality healthcare for those with disabilities. These techniques offer a precise and pragmatic structure for healthcare practitioners to confront ingrained prejudices towards disabled individuals. Using instruction, immersion, and a systematic approach, clinicians can strive towards establishing healthcare settings that prioritize inclusivity and honor the integrity of every patient. This effort contributes to overcoming biases, ultimately striving toward health equity for persons with disabilities.


Societal and cultural influences give rise to implicit biases, which have a profound impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities, leading to negative perceptions that manifest in various domains such as employment, education, and healthcare. These deeply ingrained biases sway unconscious attitudes and heavily influence decision-making processes. The disparity in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled individuals serves as a clear indicator of systemic discrimination in work environments, where only 19% of disabled individuals can secure employment compared to a significantly higher rate of 64% for their non-disabled counterparts (Cogentica, 2022). Disabled students face a nearly 18% diminished likelihood of graduation in education as implicit biases pervade classroom dynamics, teacher expectations, and institutional support (Cogentica, 2022). Therefore, it is imperative to reassess inclusive pedagogical methods impacted by these biases. Healthcare environments can be detrimentally affected by implicit biases, creating barriers for individuals with disabilities seeking trust, support, and high-quality care. Implementing customized evaluations, counter-stereotyping techniques, and systematic approaches to messaging are recommended strategies to mitigate these biases and foster a more inclusive healthcare setting. In tackling implicit biases, it is crucial to implement targeted tactics customized for each societal realm. This approach prioritizes education, exposure, and systemic modifications to achieve long-term results.

Robin Akins is the founder of Cogentica, LLC, a disability advocacy and information site founded in 2015. Dr. Akins is a quantitative psychologist with over 40 years of experience in business, government, and education with substantial teaching experience at the college level. He received his doctorate at Temple University in 1992.

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