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.

5 thoughts on “Disability in Britain: Then and Now”

  1. I’m glad you changed the name, I have spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy , hydrocephalus , I’m registered blind and in a wheelchair. I was often on the receiving end of the word “spastic” as verbal abuse

  2. My brother is severely disabled; he has cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair, has poor communication skills and can do very little for himself and needs 24 hour care. He has lived for the last 24 years in a Scope home, Hampton House in Northampton. At the time Notts County Council could only offer him a place in an old people’s home, so this was a lifeline for him. He loves living there and he and the other residents are treated with care and respect. Many of the residents and staff have been there over 30 years and Hampton House is their home.
    Scope are proposing to close Tim’s home along with 7 other of their residential homes for severely disabled residents like my brother. They think these sort of homes are old fashioned. They are ignoring the fact that the residents, and my brother is by no means the most disabled, will find a move totally traumatic and frightening. They are ignoring the wishes of the residents, their families and the staff. Worse still, they are not planning anything to replace these homes – they say that is the responsibility of the funding authority. They also know full well that there is nowhere comparable for them to go to. Severely disabled people are never a priority for local authorities and now, it seems, no longer for Scope. Scope talk about independent living. Independent living for these severely disabled people is, sadly, an impossible dream however much Scope like to pretend otherwise.
    My brother’s life has been immeasurably improved by living at Hampton House. For Scope to close it – leaving him and the other residents with nothing – is a disgraceful and shameful act. Scope are abrogating their responsibility to these severely disabled people in the most appalling way. I fear a wholly inadequate and inappropriate old people’s home is the horrific future for these residents, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
    Shame on you Scope. Life did get better for my brother but you are now proposing to make it a living hell. I despair.

  3. I would like to add that I applaud everything Scope is doing for people who are not severely disabled. I know that people who have disabilities but who can still function well in society with help need this kind of support. Of course, people with disabilities should be incorporated into society as much as possible and lead independent lives if that is what they feel they can do. I totally support these aims.

    However, my brother, and the people he lives with and the residents of Scope’s other homes eaamarked for closure, are sadly and tragically never going to be able to be part of this. They have multiple disabliities too numerous to list. Many can not communicate at all. They are nearly all in wheelchairs. Some are deaf and many have sight problems. For Scope to now think it is a good idea to take away the best thing they have – a home where they are happy, safe and secure with people and friends who understand their every need – is the utmost cruelty. Scope are not listening to the families, the residents (who they -disgracefully – call customers) or the staff. I urge anyone who read this to contact Scope and protest. What they are doing is wrong and they should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. Hi Gill, we know the proposals are causing a lot of anxiety and we are sorry for that. As we’ve talked about with you elsewhere – we have not made any decisions, or even started consulting about the proposals yet. It’s really early days and we know that this is difficult. We will continue to talk and meet with you in the next few months before consultation starts. When we do start consulting, we’ll offer Tim an independent advocate and lots of individualised support, so he can take part in consultation about whether this care home is one of the services Scope should continue to run in future.

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