Brits feel uncomfortable with disabled people

New research: The majority of Brits uncomfortable talking to disabled people

A staggering two-thirds of the British public (67%) admit that they feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people.

A fear of seeming patronising or saying the wrong thing is why most people feel awkward, according to disability charity Scope's new report, Current attitudes towards disabled people.

Scope says that the research sheds new light on why disabled people continue to face negative public attitudes in 2014.

It reveals that so-called “millennials” are twice as likely as older people to feel awkward around disabled people – and that one-fifth of 18 to 34-year-olds have actually avoided talking to a disabled person because they weren’t sure how to communicate with them.

Off the back of the findings, Scope is launching a national advertising campaign which uses comedy to shine a light on the awkwardness that many people feel about disability.

The adverts, which premiere on national television this Sunday, are fronted by comedian and presenter Alex Brooker, best-known for his role on Channel 4’s The Last Leg, which is now into its 4th series since the 2012 Paralympics.

They show Brooker guiding viewers through a series of awkward situations that they may encounter with a disabled person, such as “The Awkward ‘I’ve bent down to speak to a wheelchair user, now what?’ Situation."

Alex Brooker, who has a prosthetic leg and hand and arm impairments, says that he hopes the campaign will get people talking about, rather than avoiding, the issue of disability:

"Some people can feel a bit awkward about disability but more often than not it's coming from a good place because it's just someone not wanting to offend.

I don't see anything wrong with being curious, I would be if I saw someone different and I'm disabled myself.

It's just about getting past that and feeling confident because a disability is only a part of who someone is I think."

Channel 4’s coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games had a huge impact and research at the time[i] indicated that it changed perceptions about disability amongst viewers.

But, Scope’s research shows that there continues to be a real lack of public understanding about disability:

  • Nearly half of the British (43%) do not personally know anyone who is disabled
  • Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said that they would worry speaking about disability in front of a disabled person, with many worrying they would say something inappropriate or use an offensive term by mistake

Many people said that getting to know someone disabled (33%), or getting advice from disabled people (28%), would make them feel more confident when meeting a disabled person.

While the adverts are light-hearted, Scope wants to highlight the negative impact of discomfort about disability on disabled people’s lives.

Richard Hawkes, Scope’s CEO, says:

“Awkward situations can be funny. We’ve all been in situations that have made us cringe.

But imagine if every day, people avoided talking to you because they weren’t sure what to say or how to act.

That’s the situation that many disabled people face today.

We wanted to raise this issue in a light-hearted way, because it isn’t about pointing fingers.

Not enough people know a disabled person, or know enough about disability. This can mean people worry about saying or doing the wrong thing and feel awkward.

But it can also have a serious side.

In 2014 disabled people face many challenges. Many disabled people continue to face negative attitudes, in the playground, in the street, and from employers.

We’ve launched this campaign to get us all thinking about what we can do to include disabled people more in our lives.”

Recent analysis released by Scope revealed that in 2014, disabled people have higher aspirations than ever before, but that many disabled people feel that public attitudes to disability are still playing “catch up”.

Scope’s research reveals that when asked whose attitude most needs to change, disabled people were most likely to say the public.


[i ]Almost 40 million people - two-thirds of the UK population - watched the Paralympic Games on TV, and 74% of young viewers, 56% of all viewers said they felt more comfortable talking about disability after watching Channel 4’s coverage.

Notes to editors

Scope commissioned Opinium Research to carry out an online survey of 2,001 UK adults aged 18+ from 11 to 14 April 2014. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.

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