Impact of Disability Placements on Allied Health Students: Placement Educators’ Perspectives


  • Srivalli Nagarajan The University of Sydney, Australia
  • Alison Chung New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services, Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Australia
  • Franziska Trede Charles Sturt University, Australia
  • Lindy McAllister The University of Sydney, Australia



allied health, disability placements, practice educators, practice-based education


Research on the relevance of placements to the development of allied health student skills to work with people with disability, is an underexplored area. This knowledge is important for several reasons: to prepare students for disability placements, develop their work readiness skills to work with people with disability upon graduation, inform placement curriculum development, and ensure placement educators are supported to provide effective and efficient supervision of students on disability placements. The study discussed in this article, explores placement educators’ perceptions of powerful learning experiences during disability placements that shape students’ attitudes and perceptions of working with people with disability. Allied health placement educators from three Australian disability organisations, were invited to attend focus groups on this topic. Two focus groups, with a total of seven participants, were conducted in February and May 2016. The allied health disciplines represented in the focus groups were Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy, and Physiotherapy. Thematic analysis technique was used to analyse focus group data. Findings related to the following four key topic areas, are discussed in this  article: a. Reasons for placement educators entering and staying in the disability sector; b. Placement educator perceptions of changes in student attitudes and skills post disability placements and how their experiences shape their approaches to student placement education; c. Recommendations for universities to better prepare students to work with people with disability; and d. Preparation of students for job-seeking in the disability sector.


Amir, Y. (1969) ‘Contact hypothesis in ethnic relations’. Psychological Bulletin, 71, 319–342

Australian Government (2013) National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013. [online] available from <> [1 November 2016]

Billett, S. (2001) Learning in the Workplace: Strategies for Effective Practice. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin

Braun, V., and Clarke, V. (2006) ‘Using thematic analysis in psychology’. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), 77–101

Brown, T., Mu, K., Peyton, C.G., Rodger, S., Stagnitti, K., Hutton, E., . . . and Wu, C-Y. (2009) ‘Occupational therapy students’ attitudes towards individuals with disabilities: A comparison between Australia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States’. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30 (6), 1541–1555. [online] available from <> [1 July 2013]

Council of Australian Governments (2011) National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 [online] available from [13 November 2017]

Devkota, H.R., Murray, E., Kett, M., and Groce, N. (2017). Healthcare provider’s attitude towards disability and experience of women with disabilities in the use of maternal healthcare service in rural Nepal’. Reproductive Health [online], 14, 79. [1 July 2013]

Jones, J., McQueen, M., Lowe, S., Minnes, P., and Rischke, A. (2015) ‘Interprofessional Education in Canada: Addressing knowledge, skills and attitudes concerning intellectual disability for future healthcare professionals’. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 12 (3), 172–180

Lincoln, M., Gallego, G., Dew, A., Bulkeley, K., Veitch, C., Bundy, A., . . . and Griffiths, S. (2014) ‘Recruitment and retention of allied health professionals in the disability sector in rural and remote New South Wales, Australia’. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 39 (1), 86–97

Lyons, M. (1991) ‘Enabling or disabling? Students’ attitudes toward persons with disabilities’. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45 (4), 311–316

McAllister, L. and Nagarajan, S. (2015) ‘Accreditation requirements in allied health education: Strengths, weaknesses and missed opportunities’. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability, 6 (1), 2–24

McKenna, K., Scholtes, A.-A., Fleming, J., and Gilbert, J. (2001) ‘The journey through an undergraduate occupational therapy course: Does it change students’ attitudes, perceptions and career plans?’. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 48, 157–169

New South Wales Government (2014) Disability Inclusion Act 2014. [online] available from <> [1 November 2016]

Oermann, M.H. and Lindgren, C.L. (1995) ‘An educational program’s effect on students’ attitudes towards people with disabilities: A 1-year follow-up’. Rehabilitation Nursing, 20 (1), 6-10

Paris, M.J. (1993) ‘Attitudes of medical students and health-care professionals towards people with disabilities’. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation [online], 74, 818–825 available from [20 November 2017]

Patton, M.Q. (2015) Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods: Integrating Theory and Methods. 4th edn. Los Angeles: Sage

Rodger, S., Webb, G., Devitt, L., Gilbert, J., Wrightson, P., and McMeeken, J. (2008) ‘Clinical education and practice placements in the allied health professions: An international perspective’. Journal of Allied Health 37, 53–62

Rogan, F. and Wyllie, A. (2003) ‘Engaging undergraduate nursing students in the care of elderly residents in Australian nursing homes’. Nurse Education in Practice 3, 95–103

Shakespeare, T., Iezzoni, L.I., and Groce, N.E. (2009) ‘Disability and the training of health professionals’. The Lancet, 374 (9704), 1815–1816

Shoemake, A., Bowman, S., and Lester, T. (1998) ‘Gerontological nursing education: A professional and personal challenge for future baccalaureate faculty and students’. Educational Gerontology, 24 (5), 491–507

Stachura, K. and Garven, F. (2003) ‘Comparison of occupational therapy and physiotherapy students’ attitudes towards people with disabilities’. Physiotherapy, 89 (11), 653–665

Stachura, K. and Garven, F. (2007) ‘A national survey of occupational therapy students' and physiotherapy students' attitudes to disabled people’. Clinical Rehabilitation, 21 (5), 442–449

Ten Klooster, P.M., Dannenberg, J.-W., Taal, E., Burger, G., and Rasker, J.J. (2009) ‘Attitudes towards people with physical or intellectual disabilities: Nursing students and non-nursing peers’. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65 (12), 2562–2573

Tervo, R.C., Palmer, G., and Redinius, P. (2004) ‘Health professional student attitudes towards people with disability’. Clinical Rehabilitation, 18, 908–915

Thompson, D., Fisher, K., Purcal, C., Deeming, C., and Sawrikar, P. (2011) ‘Community attitudes to people with disability: Scoping Project.’ Occasional Paper No. 39, Social Policy Research Centre, Disability Studies and Research Centre, University of New South Wales. [online] available from [13 November 2017]

United Nations (2017) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). [online] available from [13 November 2017]

World Health Organization (WHO) (2008) The World Health Report 2008: Primary Health Care: Now More than Ever, World Health Organisation. [online] available from <> [15 July 2016]

World Health Organization (WHO) (2013) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). [online] available from <> [16 April 2013]

World Health Organization (WHO) (2017) Health Topics – Disabilities. [online] available from <, [14 August 2017]

Zheng, Q., Tian, Q., Hao, C., Gu, J., Tao, J., Liang, Z., . . . and Hao, Y. (2016) ‘Comparison of attitudes toward disability and people with disability among caregivers, the public, and people with disability: Findings from a cross-sectional survey’. BMC Public Health, 16, 1024. [online] available from <> [30 October 2017]




How to Cite

Nagarajan, S., Chung, A., Trede, F., & McAllister, L. (2017). Impact of Disability Placements on Allied Health Students: Placement Educators’ Perspectives. International Journal of Practice-Based Learning in Health and Social Care, 5(2), 101–115.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>