Our new report, The Disability Perception Gap, reveals the extent of the negative attitudes that are held towards disabled people – and how many non-disabled people don’t realise the scale of the problem.
The way other people act towards us can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves and our role in society. An occasional moment of rudeness or being ignored may be a minor inconvenience or annoyance. But the more it happens, the more the impact adds up.
For many disabled people, this will sound all too familiar. Whether it’s outright hostility, or seemingly minor incidents that add up to a hostile atmosphere, prejudice remains a common occurrence. Negative attitudes from others can be one of the biggest barrier to disabled people living life the way they want, and more needs to be done to tackle them.
The research in this report was carried out on behalf of Scope by the National Centre for Social Research as part of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey.
What is the Perception Gap?
According to our new research released today, one in three disabled people still feel that there’s a lot of prejudice against disabled people. But only one in five non-disabled people think the same. This is what we’re calling the disability perception gap.
It may seem self-evident that disabled people face prejudice, but many non-disabled people do not understand the scale of the negative attitudes towards disability.
Some difference wouldn’t be surprising – disabled people have to live with this prejudice every day, whereas non-disabled people may only ever know about it second hand.
But this gap is growing. In 2000, there was only a slight difference between the views of disabled and non-disabled people when it came to disability prejudice. Over the last 20 years, however, the gap has trebled.
There is now a real danger that many non-disabled people think that disability prejudice has been tackled long before it has been, which could block further attempts to improve the situation. Instead of this complacency, we need to make sure that the experiences of disabled people are listened to and put at the heart of any programme designed to address negative and harmful attitudes.
Being close to disability can help
When it comes to improving understanding, it seems that nothing beats personal contact with a disabled person. Whether it’s a colleague, a friend or a family member, having a relationship with a disabled person makes a real difference to non-disabled people’s attitudes.
For example, 10 percent of people who claim not to know any disabled people think of disabled people as ‘getting in the way’ some of the time – an opinion held by only 3 percent of people with a disabled colleague.
However, a third of the population claim not to know a single disabled person. This means that their views on disability are far more likely to be based on stereotypes than any knowledge of what life is like for a disabled person.
Any attempt to improve attitudes will have to increase people’s understanding of what it means to be disabled, and the challenges that disabled people face on a daily basis.
To do this requires a concerted effort across society to tackle prejudice and negative attitudes towards disabled people. This should include a variety of spaces; from the classroom to the boardroom, and all points in between.
This is why we are calling for efforts to get more disabled people into work to be amplified. With only 7 percent of people saying they have a disabled colleague, a million more disabled people in work could make a real difference to people’s views of disability and disabled people.
It’s why we’re calling on the media to do more to ensure that disabled people and their experiences are properly represented on screen. By supporting disabled talent, they can show what it means to be disabled in 2018.
Such efforts on their own will help, but they won’t be sufficient. We need a coherent approach to improving attitudes across all areas of life. Earlier this week the Government announced a new working group to look at the issues facing disabled people.
We’re calling on this group, and the rest of Government, to take prejudice seriously and launch a new cross-departmental disability strategy, focussed on improving attitudes and reducing prejudice towards disabled people.
What comes next?
This report is the start of something, not the end. We will be working to better understand how negative attitudes impact on disabled people, and how these can best be tackled.
There’s no single fix for this problem, and as part of our campaign for everyday equality for disabled people, we’d like to hear about your experiences and what you would like to see change.