British attitudes towards disabled people revealed

By agency reporter
May 24, 2018

The proportion of the British public that thinks there is a lot of prejudice towards disabled people has dropped significantly, but disabled people have a markedly different story to tell.  

In 2000, a third (37 per cent) of disabled and a third (34 per cent) of non-disabled people felt that there was a lot of prejudice towards disabled people.

Seventeen years later – in 2017 – a third (32 per cent) of disabled people still felt there is a lot of disability prejudice, however, now only a fifth (22 per cent) of the public think there is a lot of prejudice. This reveals the gap between the reality of disabled people’s lives and the public’s understanding.

Nearly half the British public do not know how many disabled people there are: 41 per cent of the public think the number of disabled people in society is half of the actual figure.

Worryingly, outdated and paternalist attitudes towards disabled people are stubbornly prevalent in society:

  • One in eight (13 per cent) respondents said they hardly ever or never tend to think of disabled people as the same as everyone else.
  • Three quarters (75 per cent) think of disabled people as needing to be cared for some or most of the time.

The research, carried out for the charity Scope by the National Centre for Social Research as part of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey, is released in a report by Scope, The Disability Perception Gap

Here’s what disabled people told Scope about the impact of negative attitudes on their lives:

  • “I’ve experienced loneliness as an adult, being excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition or people making assumptions about what I am able to do, or not” – Shani, entrepreneur, Walsall
  • “[I’ve had] people getting off the bus because they didn't want to share one with 'a cripple'” – Anon, from a Scope-led survey
  • “People used to see me as ‘one of them’ but now, because I’m disabled, they see me differently.” – Hannah, 27

Scope believes familiarity is the key to breaking down barriers and increasing understanding, and this is backed up by the research. Over a third (37 per cent) of people who have a disabled friend they know fairly well, feel there is a lot of prejudice against less than a fifth (17 per cent) of people who do not have a disabled friend.

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at disability charity Scope, said: “We rapidly need to increase understanding of disabled people's lives and step up efforts to combat negative attitudes. Unless we recognise negative attitudes exist we can’t challenge or improve them.

“Negative attitudes and misperceptions can hold disabled people back in all areas of life, from work and to shopping on the high street. But this research shows that familiarity with disability and disabled people is key to breaking down barriers.

“We need to ensure there is better visibility and representation of disabled people in everyday life. Working with disabled people can have a significant impact on attitudes.
“Right now, a million disabled people who are able to work and want to work but are shut out of the jobs market. We also need to see more disabled people on our TV screens and creative industries.

“Government must show leadership, with a cross-Whitehall strategy to tackle discrimination and negative attitudes that affect disabled people everyday. From the workplace, to schools, to public services and our transport networks, government can lead the way in creating a society where disabled people are equally valued and never feel like second class citizens.”

* Read the report The disability perception gap here

* Scope


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