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Attitudes towards disabled people

  • Our research into attitudes has found 3 out of 4 disabled people (72%) have experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years.
  • 9 out of 10 disabled people (87%) who had experienced negative attitudes or behaviour said it had a negative effect on their daily lives.

Attitudes in detail

Changing attitudes is a topic that is consistently raised by disabled people as a top priority.

At Scope, we believe negative attitudes and stereotypes are a root cause of the inequality faced by disabled people today.

Building on previous attitudes research carried out 5 years ago, we wanted to understand what attitudes disabled people face, and the effect that has on their work, education, and social lives.

Types of attitudes

Disabled people and their families experience a range of different attitudes and behaviours. Such as:

  • making assumptions or judging their capability (33%)
  • accusations of faking their impairment or not being disabled (25%)
  • staring or giving looks (19%) 

…..They were like, 'Hold on a minute, you're not disabled.' I said, 'I am, that's my name is written on the [blue] badge.' They were, like, 'No, you're not allowed, you don't look it.' You're sitting there thinking, 'Do I really need to look disabled? What does looking disabled mean to you?

Worryingly, disabled people also experienced verbal and even physical abuse.

Beginning of the first lockdown I was spat at, pushed and abused. I was being blamed because of (quote) 'spastic people' [who] needed to be protected, therefore a lockdown on everyone. I also stopped wearing the sunflower lanyard as that was just like antagonising the situation.

Where attitudes come from

The sources of these negative attitudes are varied. Disabled people told us that this was most frequently experienced with:

  • the public (42%)
  • on public transport (39%)

Negative attitudes also commonly reported:

  • from management at work (42%)
  • from benefit assessors when accessing the benefits system (52%)

It’s concerning that negative attitudes were frequently experienced much closer to home too:

  • 29% from family
  • 27% from their partners and romantic relationships
  • 25% from friends

The effect on disabled people’s lives

Negative attitudes can have a profound effect on disabled people’s lives.

9 out of 10 disabled people (87%) experiencing negative attitudes and behaviours said that they had a negative effect on their daily lives. This increased to 96% of disabled people aged 18 to 34. The personal impact of negative attitudes was more likely to be reported by disabled women.

The following experiences are looking back over the last 5 years:

Employment

Negative attitudes significantly affected disabled people looking for work or promotions.

35% said they avoided this completely because of their negative experiences.

Interviewers, employment support staff and benefits assessors had the biggest effect on disabled people when seeking employment or promotions.

Education

30% of disabled people looking for education or training said they avoided doing so because of the attitudes they had experienced.

This was more common in younger disabled people aged 18 to 34 (36%), compared to 26% of disabled people aged 55 or over.

Disabled people said the media, work colleagues and family had the biggest effect on them, when look for education or training.

Public transport

23% of disabled people avoided using public transport, after experiencing negative attitudes or behaviour while travelling.

Health and social care

13% avoided health and social care settings, after experiencing negative attitudes.

Social lives

1 in 5 disabled people (23%) avoided going out to social gatherings following negative attitudes and behaviour.

Younger disabled people were over twice as likely to avoid going out (35%), compared to disabled people 55 or over (15%).

The public, family and friends had the biggest impact on their decisions about going out for social occasions.

Disabled people’s priorities for attitudinal change

Disabled people told us that change in the following areas needed prioritising:

  • The public (31%)
  • Benefits system (30%)
  • Healthcare (22%)
  • The media (19%)
  • The workplace (17%)
  • Shops (15%)

Conclusion

Negative attitudes towards disabled people are still too common.

From occasional looks or stares to more severe accusations and verbal or physical abuse. It all adds up, making disabled people feel isolated, lonely, and withdrawn from society.

Disabled people highlighted the public, benefits system, the workplace, and the media as areas where attitudes need to improve.

Shifting attitudes requires action on many fronts. Organisations, institutions, and individuals all have a role to play. And they all need to work together.

  • Government to change its thinking about benefits and how disabled people interact with the welfare system.
  • Individuals to understand the effect their words and actions can have.
  • Disability organisations and campaigners working to raise awareness and improve understanding around employing disabled people, disabled consumers, and disabled passengers.

Tips when talking about disability

There are some words that disabled people find hurtful or harsh. Either because it suggests they are helpless or they are words used as insults.

Learn about words most disabled people prefer.

Talking about disability

Next steps

We want organisations to use this research in their work to help improve attitudes. And we will be making more data available from this research soon.

We will also be doing more work on representation of disability in the media, news reporting. As well as disability campaigning highlighting the best ways to build empathy and improve attitudes.

We believe that an equal society is a better society. One where all disabled people can flourish.

How we conducted this research

This research is based on the following data.

  • Opinium survey: 4,015 disabled adults between 12 May to 16 June 2022.
  • Phone interviews: 100 disabled people. Part of the survey to include those with limited access to the internet or who were less digitally confident.
  • Focus groups: In-depth discussions with 24 disabled people. Including a specific younger adults group.  

Co-production

We co-produced the questions and categories in the online survey with disabled people.

The development, design and delivery of this research programme was supported by a co-researcher.

Alternative report formats

You can also download and access our attitudes research in PDF.

Download our attitudes research (PDF 106KB)

 

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