The Effect of a Specialized Training Program on the Knowledge and Attitudes of First Responders About People with Communication Disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

First Advisor

Diane Powers Dirette, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Rob Lyerla, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Katie Strong, Ph.D.


Augmentative alternative communication, communication disabilities, emergency first responders, training


Individuals with disabilities experience emergencies more often than those without disabilities, and individuals with complex communication needs (CCN) are even more likely to have these experiences. As a result of experiencing both medical and legal emergencies, individuals with CCN have frequent encounters with emergency first responders (i.e., firefighters, EMS, and police officers; EFR). Despite being well-trained in many facets of their occupation, EFRs are not adequately trained for working with this vulnerable population. This may lead to less-than-optimal outcomes for individuals with CCN.

To better equip EFRs in their efforts to assist individuals with CCN, a 90-minute training session was designed by the researcher and a colleague and presented to multiple EFR departments around Indiana during 2017-2018. This study is a retrospective analysis of data collected from 691 EFRs who participated in the training sessions. The researcher examined the data for three things: 1) changes in knowledge and attitudes; 2) potential influence from the demographic variables of gender, age, and occupation; and 3) what correlation exists, if any, between the change in knowledge and change in attitudes following the training.

Results indicated a statistically significant (p < .05) difference in both the change in knowledge and change in attitudes when examining the group as a whole. However, none of the demographic variables were found to be statistically significant. Additionally, there was a weak positive correlation between the change in knowledge and change in attitudes which yielded statistical significance.

The statistically significant changes in knowledge and attitudes indicate that the specialized training is effective for EFRs and should be explored in greater detail. The training program does not need to be further specialized for different groups of EFRs but does need further examination in other areas of the country. Validity and reliability studies should be conducted as the next step towards mandating this type of training for all EFRs.

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