Disability in Britain: Then and Now

Twenty years ago, we voted to change our name from The Spastics Society to Scope.

We dropped a word which had become a term of abuse for disabled people. We chose a new name, “Scope”, to reflect our belief that a disabled person can achieve anything.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of this decision, we’ve been asking how far the lives of disabled people have changed in this time.

We’ve analysed data from 1994 and today. Check out our infographic and data blog.

We’ve also spoken to people involved with the name-change, disabled people, and have received contributions from well-known disabled figures from the words of sport, arts and media.

The decision

Valerie Lang, the first disabled woman on the executive committee of the Spastic Society:
“I just felt it had become unacceptable. I thought it was damaging to us, as individuals. It was a well-known term of abuse and I thought disabled people had enough to cope with without that.” (Read Valerie’s blog about the name change)

Richard Brewster, who was in charge of communications at the time of the name change:
“In the build-up to making the decision to change the name at all, a defining moment was when we saw the research that showed that young parents of disabled children were not associating with The Spastics Society… What the research said was that our future was walking away from us.”

The aspirations of disabled people are higher than ever

Julie Fernandez, actress, producer, campaigner When I meet and talk to young disabled people today… I can see that they have very different attitudes to say, twenty years ago. We have legislation now to support the rights of disabled people both at home and at work.  There are more accessible ramps, more disabled changing rooms in shops and lower reception desks in offices. It is wonderful to see how much more confident young disabled people are today as they expect equality and rightly so.

Julie Fernandez, actress, producer, campaigner:
“When I meet and talk to young disabled people today… I can see that they have very different attitudes to say, twenty years ago. We have legislation now to support the rights of disabled people both at home and at work. There are more accessible ramps, more disabled changing rooms in shops and lower reception desks in offices. It is wonderful to see how much more confident young disabled people are today. They expect equality and rightly so.”

Valerie Lang:
“Young disabled people today expect and demand the right to have access to things these days, that when I was growing up, we would have been grateful for.”

Sascha Kindred holding a medalSascha Kindred, six-time Paralympic champion:
“I experienced quite a lot of name calling back in school, but I always had my twin brother there to support me so it seemed easier to deal with.

“I definitely believe attitudes have changed since then as when I go back to schools now to speak about my experiences as a disabled athlete, the children are genuinely interested and I know a lot of other kids with disabilities have increased opportunities and facilities compared to my time at school. I still think we need to educate people further though as this will continue to increase awareness of the challenges people with a disability face every day.”

Alice MaynardAlice Maynard, chair of Scope:
“The big change for disabled people in the last twenty years is that we have higher expectations for our lives than ever before. That’s mainly down to disabled people’s campaigns. Change can really happen and the last 20 years are proof of that. Whether it’s representing your country as an athlete, starring in a national television drama, or being elected to office, we know that disabled people can aim high and succeed.”

In 2014, disabled people’s lives are still tougher than they need to be

Nicholas Hamilton, racing driver:
“People love to tell you that you can’t do something when you have Cerebral Palsy, and I like proving them wrong. There were so many barriers to me becoming a racing driver and I’ve overcome them. I hope that in another 20 years’ time no one will ever be saying ‘you can’t do that’ and everyone will be encouraged to chase their dreams.”

Julie Fernandez:
“As a disabled adult, it is very hard to get a job, and very hard to access benefits. In fact, I would say that many disabled people in the UK still feel like second-class citizens. I am still shocked that for many people I meet, I am the first disabled person that they know. And often they start out with lots of negative stereotypes. I think that although we are definitely in a better position than we were twenty years ago, we are still fighting society’s attitudes towards us.

Bethy Woodward, Paralympic medalist:
“I think that young disabled people today are ambitious and want to succeed in life, in whatever they chose to do. You do need determination. Unfortunately, as a disabled person you do encounter negative attitudes. People underestimate what you can do, just because of your disability. ‘When I started out in athletics, it was very hard for me to join an athletics club. I eventually found a coach who showed some belief in me and encouraged me, and he has been a great support. Hopefully I have now shown what I am capable of!”

IanIan Macrae, editor, Disability Now:
“I’d say that as equality legislation has been eroded, and as the voices of disabled people in the media and as a movement have been made much quieter, fewer opportunities have been made available to fewer disabled people. In the 90s, we were seen as empowered and entitled to greater equality and more rights, and we were able to present ourselves as such… Now we’re defined in terms of having become more needy, vulnerable, and requiring support – through benefits, for instance – rather than needing more rights and greater equality.”

And some say that public attitudes are actually getting worse…

When we asked disabled people on Facebook how things have changed in the past 20 years, the majority of respondents said that attitudes have actually got worse.

“I actually think we’re going backwards. We were making so much progress, but since this government have been in power ignorance has reared its ugly head and now people are suffering as a result.”

“Socially nothing has changed in fact I think it’s worse. Because social opinion is influenced in many ways, I believe socially we are seen as a scourge better put down than supported. It’s frightening, an now our financial security is threatened too.”

“I rarely get offered a seat on the bus now, since the rise in the disabled = scrounger debate.”

“There’s been no change people still treat us disabled as second class citizens and this government doesn’t make things any better.”

Challenging attitudes to disability in 2014

Twenty years on from our name change, Scope is once again going to be tackling public attitudes to disability. We’d love to hear your views on what can be done to challenge attitudes to disabled people.

Mother knows best

Happy Mother’s Day! We asked mums from the Netbuddy community (now part of Scope) to pass on their top tips for making it work. Here’s what they had to say:

Mum hugging sonChoose your battles

I have learned the hard way to choose my battles carefully. I have to decide which battles really are important for me to win and which I can leave. The important ones involve safety and health. Some others you have to let slip for your own sanity!

Do a happiness audit

Think about what gives you happy feelings and do it as often as possible – whether it’s singing, dancing, laughing, sex or chocolate. Create a ‘Prescription for change’ for yourself, listing the things you need twice a day & twice a week. Then stick it on your fridge.

Be honest about your limits

Therapists mean well when they give you lots of exercises to do with your child, but sometimes, it’s impossible to keep up with them and still have time to do stuff like eat, sleep and breathe. Be open with the therapists if you feel overwhelmed, or need more ideas for exercises that can be an organic part of your day (say, bicycling a tot’s legs as you change her nappy).

Two mums talking with a cup of teaFace to face

Talking to other parents who are going through the same thing as you is always helpful. Face 2 Face is a one to one parent befriending service, run by Scope, for parents and family of disabled children.

Get plenty of exercise

Exercise is great for your overall mood. I’ve taken up weights, because my son is large and I worry that one day I won’t be able to manage him. Being fit has given me huge confidence in how I manage my son, which in turn has improved his behaviour.

Schedule time for yourself

Try to make a little quality time for yourself each day even if this means leaving the person you care for in front on their favourite DVD or TV program for half an hour. It won’t do them any harm! If you can, try and take half a day a week off – book a babysitter, book your child into a crèche/playscheme, play date, or family – give yourself that time to re-charge.

Mum looking tired

It’s ok to ask for help

Friends and family are often very happy to help, but don’t know unless you tell them. Draw up a list of suggestions you can use to ask friends and family for help, for example school runs, baking birthday cakes, mowing the lawn, helping siblings with homework, being on an emergency rota for overnight hospital stays.

Organize your home life

Buy two of non-perishable items like washing up liquid, so you always have one in reserve. Have a whiteboard in the kitchen to write on when things run out. Plan your meals for the week – even think about having Tuesday as curry night, Wednesday pasta, Friday fish, etc. to save time thinking. If you can afford to, get a cleaner.

Yoga for you

Take up Yoga to stop muscle injuries especially if you have to do lots of lifting and carrying.

Friends and hobbies

Friends and hobbies are enormously important because they take you out of your role as a carer for a short while. I try and mix with people who aren’t carers too, so I get to focus on something else for a bit.

Time out

I started running after the birth of my disabled daughter 8 years ago. It’s my time out – time for me to de-stress, clear my head & take out my frustration on the streets. I come back a happier & calmer person, ready to deal with the real world again. I think we all need time out for ourselves.

Family hugging and smilingA positive note

When you have a disabled child, filling in forms can be very depressing as you focus entirely on the negative. So I write on a separate sheet of paper one good point for every negative. I laminate this and put on the fridge so that when things are tough I can read it and remind myself of the fab things about my three disabled children.

Feel good!

Wear lipstick … always! In good colours – preferably expensive!
Toe nail painting is also very encouraging.

What are your top tips? Let us know in the comments below.

Read one of our fantastic posts from mums recently: