New research published by the disability charity Scope reveals that non-disabled people are increasingly becoming out of touch with the reality of disabled people’s lives, with outdated and ignorant attitudes towards people with disabilities remaining a significant problem in modern Britain.
The research reveals how the proportion of the British public who think there is a lot of prejudice towards disabled people has dropped significantly since the turn of the millennium.
However, this is at odds with the opinion of disabled people themselves, who believe that public perception of disability has barely changed in 17 years.
In 2000, a third (37%) of disabled and a third (34%) of non-disabled people felt that there was a lot of prejudice towards disabled people.
Seventeen years later, a third (32%) of disabled people say they still face a great deal of prejudice, but only 22% of the general public share this view – down from 34% in 2000.
Worrying, 41% of non-disabled people think there is half the number of disabled people in Britain than there actually is.
This may be explained by a “hostile environment” towards disabled people that has become more prevalent over the last decade, particularly toward those who claim benefits. Indeed, 13% of respondents said they tend to think of disabled people as the same as everyone else “hardly ever or never”.
“People used to see me as ‘one of them’ but now, because I’m disabled, they see me differently”, said Hannah, 27.
However, the research also uncovered evidence to suggest that public perception of living with a disability can be improved. Over a third (37%) of respondents who have a disabled friend said there is a lot of prejudice, compared to only 17% of people who don’t have a close 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.”