photo credit: Lisa Norwood via photopin cc

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One in ten adults in the UK admit to using abusive or offensive language toward a disabled person, a new poll reveals.

Results of the survey suggests that adults are ‘perpetuating and normalising bullying behaviour’ by directly voicing discriminatory remarks at disabled people and those with learning difficulties.

One in ten adults have directed abusive language toward a disabled person or someone with learning difficulties, with half of these doing so to be insulting.

The survey released today by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, together with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), shows that four in ten (44%) adults use the words ‘spaz’, ‘spastic’, ‘retard’ or ‘mong’ in ‘casual’ conversation.  In addition, 65% hear others using these words in conversation, with over a third (37%) witnessing them being used online, says the NCB.

Almost a third (30%) of people who took part in the survey admitted to using the words directly toward a disabled person, with one in five saying they regarded it as ‘banter’ and one in ten used the words to be insulting.

Only 53% of adults accepted that using abusive remarks toward disabled people was unacceptable and 30% said they didn’t consider the words to be offensive.

When asked if they knew what the words meant, over a half of adults surveyed said didn’t know the history of the word ‘mong’, over a third didn’t know where the word ‘spastic’ came from and a quarter were unaware of the origins of the word ‘retard’. After being told about the origins of the words 28% said they would continue using them.

photo credit: JLM Photography. via photopin cc
photo credit: JLM Photography. via photopin cc

The findings also suggests abusive language is being picked up and used by children. 70% of teachers polled in the survey said they have overheard pupils using the words ‘spaz’, ‘spastic’, ‘retard’ or ‘mong’ at school. Half of the teachers surveyed said they had heard the language in ‘casual’ conservation, while the same number said children were using the words to insult or upset other children.

More than half of teachers (55%) hear children using discriminatory language toward a disabled child/child with SEN, with just under half of these instances deliberately used as insults.

Disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) are twice as likely to be bullied as other children. 83% of young people with learning difficulties have suffered bullying, say the NCB. 90% of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome have reported the bullying of their child in the previous year.

National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, Lauren Seager-Smith, said:

“1 in 5 children of school age have a special educational need, those who existing evidence shows us are significantly more likely to suffer bullying. Our findings show that children are using these bullying words in general conversation, and worse still, to deliberately insult each other and their disabled peers or those with special educational needs.”

“As adults we need to ask ourselves what our role is in this, when it became acceptable to use these and other discriminatory words as part of ‘banter’ and why we feel disabled people and those with special educational needs are fair game.”

“Existing evidence demonstrates just how pervasive the bullying of disabled children and those with special education needs is, yet as a society we are using discriminatory and hurtful language that is perpetuating the bullying of these vulnerable children in our schools. We must challenge the normalisation of this language and recognise the impact it is having on the attitudes of generations to come.”

Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson said:

“This is completely unacceptable. No child should ever say or hear these words whether used in conversation or as an insult.”

“Schools have a responsibility to ensure that children can learn in an environment free from prejudice.”

“To help tackle this we have given more power to heads to punish bad behaviour and there’s also now a greater focus on behaviour and bullying in school inspections.”

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Photo credit: Lisa Norwood via photopin cc

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  1. went out for my daughters birthday tonight for a meal. Some people were talking about “retards ” and saying “spasticus “, laughing loudly. I am in a wheelchair and it appears at times that I have ataxia, my daughter has epilepsy and mild learning difficulties, her boyfriend has aspergers, the only non disabled person with us was my husband. Am I being oversensitive ? as I did feel uncomfortable at what I heard,thinking people would not be that cruel.

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