Tag Archives: prejudice

My physical limitations are often the least of my worries – other people’s attitudes are the problem

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?

Chloe standing in front of students, laughing
Chloe is changing attitudes through her work as a Scope Role Model

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.

Chloe smiles at the camera, with seated students behind her
89% of students felt less awkward about disability after attending a Scope Role Models session

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.

Will you support our campaign by telling us your experiences?

People think there isn’t much prejudice towards disabled people, but this is my daily reality

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.

In this guest blog, Abbi, who has brittle bones, talks about her life as a young disabled woman – which is far from prejudice free – and why it’s vital that the public recognise this.

It’s May 2018, and my friends and I are on a university reunion weekend in Cambridge, dancing the night away in our favourite shabby student nightclub. As always, my being disabled is a practical consideration of the night – my friends are well-trained in lifting my wheelchair up steps, or dancing in a protective circle if the club is particularly crowded – but beyond that, I’m just part of the group.

Until suddenly, I’m not.

First, I notice a group of boys with a phone camera trained on me, laughing. The boy holding the phone turns the screen to his friend, who laughs too. In the centre of the screen is a video of me, dancing. I shrug it off.

Just as I’m beginning to forget the incident, a man leans down to my shoulder. If I were non-disabled, I might think he was going to offer me a drink, or warn me I’ve got my skirt tucked into my knickers, but as a young disabled woman in 2018, I know exactly what’s coming.

“I just want to say,” he shouts, “I think you’re really inspiring…”

Abbi, a young disabled woman, smiles as she sits in her wheechair

I live my life under the scrutiny of strangers

It’s been four years since Scope’s last report on public perceptions of disability, and I’ve been dancing in that Cambridge club for all of them. Perceptions have changed – but not enough. Disabled people continue to be stereotyped either scroungers, raking in benefits without contributing to society; or inspirations, overcoming all odds to bravely struggle to the shops (and maybe winning a few Paralympic medals along the way).

I’ve lost count of the number of times total strangers have unexpectedly started pushing my wheelchair along streets or across roads, apparently never considering how I would have appeared there in the first place, had I not been able to push myself. I’ve been ‘brave’ in supermarkets and ‘inspiring’ at bus stops; I’ve also been ‘faking it’ in a Blue Badge parking space, and ‘milking it’ at a train station.

I live my life under the near-constant scrutiny of strangers – yet, according to Scope’s recent study, only 22 per cent of non-disabled people still feel there is a lot of prejudice against disabled people, compared with 32 per cent of disabled people.

Until people acknowledge the persistence of prejudice, nothing will change

It’s true that, in theory at least, the UK is becoming more disability-friendly. Accessibility information is often clearly advertised on websites for theatres and events; job applications often reference the employer’s commitment to equality; high-profile court cases such as Doug Paulley’s case against FirstGroup suggest that disabled people can go anywhere, achieve anything.

In practice, even where buses and trains are accessible, wheelchair users continue to be refused access because the designated spaces are filled with luggage or pushchairs. Disabled people have to apply to an average of 60% more jobs than non-disabled people. People with invisible disabilities continue to be berated for using accessible services, or reported to fraud prevention hotlines (despite disability benefit fraud rates standing at under 1% – the lowest of any benefit). Even my own doctors are often surprised that my wheelchair is self-funded, wrongly assuming – like many non-disabled people – that the NHS provides appropriate wheelchairs for free.

It’s easy to see how non-disabled people might believe we live in a largely ‘disability-friendly’ country. The reality is starkly different – as disabled people, and their friends and families, know all too well. And until the non-disabled population recognises the persistence of prejudiced or unequal behaviours, attitudes and systems towards their disabled counterparts, it is impossible for the balance to change.

This 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.

Will you support our campaign by telling us your experiences?

I know you’re trying to be nice – #100days100stories

Amanda’s six-year-old daughter Lucia has cerebral palsy. In this guest post from May 2014, Amanda talks about how people’s attitudes can make life awkward for her family. We’re republishing Amanda’s story here as part or our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

Amanda and her husband Anthony with Lucia, Georgia and Roman
Amanda and her husband Anthony with Lucia, Georgia and Roman

The moment other parents hear that Lucia has cerebral palsy, we have to deal with their preconceptions about what disabled people are like. We get people talking loudly and slowly, and people saying ‘What’s wrong with her?’ The answer is that nothing is wrong with Lucia. She just has cerebral palsy, and sometimes uses a wheelchair to get around. ‘Lucia’s wobbly legs’, as our other two children, Roman and Georgia, describe it! You get almost pitying looks from other parents – and you know, I wouldn’t change Lucia for the world.

Support online

I joined Scope’s online forum soon after Lucia was diagnosed, and it has been brilliant. Sometimes, when Lucia is ill or tired, we do feel sorry for ourselves, and having other parents to talk to and keep us positive is a huge help. You can also pick people’s brains for practical advice on things like special needs statements, disabled badges and mobility aids. We were very unsure about getting a wheelchair for Lucia, but people on the forum said to go for it – and it has been amazing. It has really improved our quality of life.

Don’t see the wheelchair

A couple of times, people have said, ‘You know, if you didn’t tell me I’d never have guessed Lucia is disabled’. It’s really not what we want to hear. When it comes to disability, you just adapt – we don’t need to pretend Lucia isn’t disabled. Sometimes we get stopped when we’re out shopping, and people make a massive fuss of Lucia’s wheelchair – ‘Ooh, look at the little girl, look at the wheels, aren’t they pretty?’ I know people are trying to be positive when they give us extra attention, but it’s really awkward for us. We much prefer it when no one stops us, no one cares, everyone just moves on. We know you’re trying to be nice, but we would much prefer if you didn’t even see the wheelchair. Even if you’re saying something positive, I’d respect you far more if you saw the person in the chair instead.

At Scope we believe that disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else, so let’s end the awkward.

Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories and read the rest of our stories so far. 

Attitudes meet actions: how does Britain feel about disability?

The game changers

joeJoe Hall is National Campaigns Manager at Scope

As part of developing our next campaign, we’re trying to build a clearer picture of what’s happening in Britain in 2013 and how it’s affecting disabled people’s lives. We’ve just completed two pieces of research to begin finding the answers to some big questions.

1. What are the public’s attitudes to disabled people in Britain today?

One of the main aims for our campaign is to shift negative attitudes. Disabled people have told us for a long time that this is a problem. Last year, around the time of the Paralympics, surveys pointed to an improvement in the way the public thought of disability. But you don’t change attitudes in a fortnight and a year on, disabled people and their families say we need to challenge ignorance, prejudice and especially the belief that many disabled people are ‘benefit scroungers’.

We recently worked with Opinium to run a survey of more than a thousand people, gauging their knowledge of and attitudes to disability. There’s some sobering reading in the early results.

  • Most people believe disabled people face some prejudice. It’s thought-provoking that there is awareness – and could be useful as a basis for getting the public behind campaigns for change.
  • Nearly half the respondents said that some or most of the time they have a negative view of disabled people – whether it’s feeling disabled people are ‘getting in the way’, ‘not as productive’ (linked to the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’) or feeling ‘discomfort and awkwardness’ around them. It’s striking as people often tend to give more positive answers in surveys – answering what they think they ‘should’ say, not being this blunt.
  • Dig a little deeper and people admitted to being especially uncomfortable around learning difficulties and mental health issues.

The results show that not everyone thinks the same, and this could tell us where we need to focus our efforts.

  • The initial findings indicate that if you’re younger, a man, better off and / or live in urban areas in the Midlands and South-East, you tend to have the most negative attitudes towards disabled people.
  • Conversely women, older people, those less well off, people in the North and Scotland, are all more likely to have more positive views of disabled people.

What shapes people’s attitudes?

It’s likely to be a mix of things that influence each person. But it’s revealing that the vast majority of people had little or very little knowledge of disability and many said they didn’t have a close relationship with a disabled person.

Hold this evidence about public attitudes in your head as you get the flipside.

2. How does this fit with disabled people’s experiences?

The other main aim of our campaign is to influence the next Government to improve disabled people’s standard of living. That means the things we all need and expect, like:

  • being supported when we’re young
  • having a decent education
  • having a good job
  • making our own decisions
  • having enough money to live and being able to save for our future.

If you’re disabled, too often you don’t get a fair shot at these.

Why do disabled people think this is happening?

We recently surveyed disabled people and family members on their experiences in major areas of life. What do they feel is holding them back?

What looks likely is that people’s attitudes are having a direct impact on disabled people having lower living standards. They aren’t two separate issues; they’re interrelated. Here are a couple of areas where it came out strongly.

  • In mainstreams schools, half of disabled pupils said the greatest barriers to their learning was feeling self-conscious about their disability and feeling there was nobody that they could talk to. Things like physical access were an issue too, but some of the greatest obstacles they faced were about the social environment: can their teachers and their peers relate to them? Is it ok to talk about disability at school?
  • In employment, the two changes disabled people most wanted in the workplace were modified working hours and modified duties to allow for their impairment. But only a minority of those who wanted these changes could get them from their employer. Could this be partly due to negative attitudes about what disabled people could achieve in the workplace and / or a lack of understanding about the support disabled people need? Are there parallels with what disabled people say about their experiences in schools: is it ok to talk about disability at work?

What this adds up to – and hope for change

It’s not surprising that there seems to be a link between society’s attitudes and disabled people’s experiences. Individuals make up institutions, whether it’s schools, companies or political parties. The attitudes of your teachers and colleagues affect your experiences of education and work. And broader public attitudes shape Government decides policy. It works the other way round too ‒ the institutions, systems and communities we’re part of shape our attitudes.

We don’t yet know enough to say how we can conquer these challenges. How can negative attitudes, discomfort and awkwardness be overcome? A few other initial findings from the survey of the general public give cause for hope.

  • The better you know a disabled person, the less likely you are to feel uncomfortable or awkward around disabled people in general. Finding ways to broker or strengthen personal relationships could be a powerful route to change if done in the right way.
  • The more people know about disability, the less likely they are to think negatively about disabled people.
  • People who value equality, freedom and independence tend to be more accepting and more comfortable around disabled people. Appealing to these values in what we do and say could shift deep attitudes.

These might not sound like earth-shattering insights, but it’s all too easy to overlook  that there are ways to break down barriers.

What do you think?

We feel there’s an important picture beginning to emerge from these findings. We have further to go to work out what it means for our campaign – and we’d love your views. Contribute to the thinking ‒ please leave a comment below.

Please note, this is just the summary of a rich study. We can’t share all the results at this stage as we want to keep some back for possible media work next year – as we said we’d have to do sometimes in the community guidelines. But we’d love your take on these initial findings.