The social educational project “Il Marciapiede Didattico, Disabilita il Pregiudizio” (The Educational Sidewalk, Disabling Prejudice), coordinated by Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Itlay, has become a research project investigating how to reduce discrimination against people living with disabilities and minority groups by simulating situations of discomfort.
The experiment was carried out among groups of students (450 in all), aged between 11 and 15 years old attending secondary schools in the Municipality of Florence. The main objective was to reduce prejudice against those with disabilities by putting oneself in the shoes of others--specifically, sitting in a wheelchair and wheeling along a modular wooden pavement mounted inside the school facilities with all the difficulties and obstacles of any city pavement.
This was the birth of the collaboration for this research between the Department of Education, Languages, Interculture, Literatures and Psychology of the University of Florence; and District 5 of the Municipality of Florence, with the support of the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze; the Region of Tuscany; the Adventist Church in Italy; and ADRA International.
The results of the study support the initial thesis, showing that taking the point of view of a minority group while interacting with a person from this same group leads to more favorable attitudes, higher levels of empathy, and higher contact intentions towards people with disabilities. On the other hand, attitudes reported by individuals who completed the activity of putting themselves in someone else's shoes without encountering a person belonging to a minority group were less favorable.
Perhaps the most significant outcome of the study is that the perspective of immersion proved to be effective in reducing prejudice towards minorities who were not explicitly mentioned during the intervention.
The research article was approved and published in one of the most important scientific journals in the field, “The Journal of Applied Social Psychology.” We can say that the Educational Sidewalk project is a valuable tool for breaking down mental as well as physical barriers to disability and diversity.