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.
Many people have responded to this, sharing their own experiences. In this guest blog, Chloe, who has cerebral palsy, talks about her life as a young disabled woman – and why she became a Scope Role Model to change attitudes.
I like to think that my impairment is a small part of me. In theory this is true, in practice it can be a very different story. Having cerebral palsy and a visual impairment does affect my life and always will do, yet the physical limitations are often the least of my worries. It is actually everything outside of what you would think that is the most limiting, with attitudes being at the forefront of it all.
Subtle prejudice is common, and can be just as frustrating
Negative attitudes towards disabled people are not always the more extreme things that may come to mind. It would be a lie to say disabled people are not faced with hate crimes and people being aggressive towards them. However, attitudes can be much subtler than this. From my own experiences it is so common for people to talk to the person I am with, even if it is about me!
The most recent example of this was when my PA was asked if I would like a copy of the menu in Braille, I was stood right next to her. I personally would not benefit from a Braille menu, but it is amazing the one was available. If the woman would have asked myself then the whole situation would have been perfect and incredibly accessible.
On the other hand, if they are talking to me it can come across as patronising or as if they know what is best for me. I fully appreciate that some people don’t know what to say, but why treat us like we are lower than you just because we have a disability?
We’re seen as not capable of certain roles
I believe that current attitudes can also stem into the roles in society which we are able to play. Sure, we can be Paralympians, motivational speakers or disability activists. In fact I am extremely proud to hold of one these roles.
However, attitudes often limit us to these roles and society forgets we are capable of being their retail assistant, accountant or hairdresser. They forget we have dreams and aspirations just like them over the career we want. I understand that some impairments may limit roles we have to a certain extent but that’s for us to figure out – not to be told by members of the public.
Negative attitudes have made me doubt myself
These types of negative attitudes can have a significant impact. Despite attitudes being the opinions of others, it can make you feel incompetent and less worthy of certain opportunities.
On the other hand, at times it can be hard to justify your own achievements beyond ‘they only gave that to me because I’m disabled’. This is reinforced by the attitudes of other people. It is hard to overcome these views when you are faced with it every day and can be extremely damaging.
It can also lead to moments of doubt, even if this is completely out of character. I clearly remember struggling to walk up a school corridor because I had a cast on which was painful. Two girls, who were several years below me, walked past and for some reason I couldn’t help but be so disappointed in myself.
I’d just become Assistant Head Girl and I was so proud of this but couldn’t help thinking “How on earth are you good enough to be Assistant Head Girl, potentially having younger students look up to you, when you can’t even successfully walk down a corridor!”.
I have learnt that this internal monologue is not true at all, and yet I thought this because of the attitudes I am surrounded by. Fighting them away would have been near enough impossible if it wasn’t for my incredible support network.
I became a Scope Role Model to change attitudes
So, what is the next step? We cannot go on like this and something must change. In my opinion, improving attitudes can come about by challenging stereotypes which often are deep- seated within society.
We need to open our eyes to the reality of having a disability and that we are not as far forward as we believe. This includes the fact we can play a role within society, but also that having a disability can be hard and can be extremely challenging to live with at times.
Scope Role Model programme is working on normalising disability in schools around the country and I love being part of this. I don’t mind being asked questions by the students and I will be honest with them because this is the only way progress is going to be made. Not everyone has to share their story, but I choose to do so.
Why not see a disabled person as an individual who is just as unique as yourself? A person who is just as capable and who has needs that are just as important. Treat us the same as you would a family member, friend, work colleague or professional. With respect, humanity and belief.
Chloe is a student, writer, disability activist and Assistant Coordinator at CP Teens UK. You can read more of Chloe’s work on her award-winning blog.
Scope’s 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.