Psychology classes at many universities pay little – if any – attention to disabilities, creating a missed opportunity to educate young people on interactions with this population, researchers say.

In an analysis of 700 classes at 98 top-ranked undergraduate psychology programs across the country, researchers found that conversations about disabilities are limited.

“About 57 million people in the U.S. have a disability, and it’s likely we will all interact with someone with a disability on a regular basis,” said Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University and an author of the study published in the journal Teaching of Psychology. “Yet in terms of minority groups, we teach about disability the least. We are not properly preparing students to interact with this group.”

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Overall, the study found that all of the colleges in the analysis offered classes on psychiatric disabilities, but just eight had courses focusing on physical disabilities though such issues are more common. Less than 20 percent of psychology programs included opportunities to learn about physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, the findings suggest.

Additionally, the researchers noted that courses tended to take a medical approach, focusing on diagnosis, treatment and cures rather than looking at social issues like coping, acceptance, prejudice and policy implications.

Bogart said the findings point to a need to better educate psychology faculty on disability issues and offer more resources to these teachers so that they can better incorporate such topics in their coursework.

“Ideally, disability should be infused throughout the psychology curriculum, and, in particular, it should be included in introductory, social and health psychology courses,” Bogart said. “And we should be seeing more course topics that reflect the most common types of disability.”