Tag Archives: Social stigma

Behind the barriers of disability

The game changers


Lee Adams is an activist and author of the blog, Touching Elephants.

Campaigns have the power to change the thoughts and feelings of individuals and nations alike but the subject of disability within them is, through no fault of its own, becoming a barrier to itself. My own personal challenge with disability is not unique but finding myself behind the barriers of disability is. There has been some fantastic work done to highlight the challenges of disability and more importantly the stigma that disabled people face, but there is much more to be done. Disability is becoming a buzzword without any real understanding attached to it and, in my experience, it is left to social media to provide a better understanding of it and a space in which individuals are considered, understood and valued.

Perceptions of disability

Personally, I have really enjoyed the media coverage surrounding mental health and disability, but its objective is not demonstrated in everyday life. We use many terms and words associated with disability and partially due to the 2012 London Paralympics, we have seen a major shift in how society acknowledges disability and in particular mental health. I have started to see debates about depression and illness, about the term disability and about who is considered disabled. It has stopped being about the individual which for disabled people, charities, organisations and campaigns has become a huge barrier towards eradicating the stigma that such interpretation causes. Discussions on disability shouldn’t be focused on what we can’t do, but on what we can do as individuals. Campaigns that achieve this will ensure disabled people have a voice and deserved sense of belonging in society.

‘Live Aid’ for disability

We need to think carefully about our perception of disability and the words we use to describe it. The more we negate a true understanding of disability, the more challenges charities will face in their quest to reduce the stigma surrounding it. I remember watching ‘Live Aid’as a teenager. Looking back, we couldn’t have envisaged the longevity and success that such a campaign has had in increasing our awareness of the challenges and suffering that third world countries face. It is somewhat confusing then, that we are not able to apply this shift in attitudes towards other areas of society and in particular, towards disability. Stigma is a barrier that comes from a lack of understanding and is arguably more debilitating than disability itself. It isolates people and creates an unrealistic society with no appreciation for individuals.

Disability in the media

Areas of the media sometimes create or add to this stigma. We often find ourselves watching a programme featuring topics that rely on an impactful headline without giving any real substance to the story. This leaves the audience to come to their own conclusions and may lead to a misguided view of a very serious problem. Even with the availability of communication outlets such as TV, radio, written media and social media, campaigns and organisations still face a huge battle to communicate the awareness and acceptance of disability. The term disability should not be a buzz word; it is a term that represents a part of society. All it takes is some knowledge and understanding to remove these huge barriers and to make progress. Let’s embrace the motivation of campaigns and allow individuals to enjoy their lives without judgement or stigma.

Have a great campaign and above all have some fun!

Right now, we’re creating plans for an ambitious new campaign. It’s a game-changing long-term campaign that aims to influence the next government, raise living standards for disabled people in Britain and change attitudes. We need you to help us shape it.

How can we change attitudes?

The game changers

Guest post from Jo Davies, who is Campaigns Lead at Mencap.

Most campaigning organisations want to change society’s attitudes in some way or another. For an organisation like Mencap – which is working towards a society where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and included – it is one of the main things we want to do. Our reasons are simple: most people don’t know much about learning disability – or any kind of disability – and this lack of knowledge leads to all sorts of misconceptions, uneasiness and prejudice.

Let me give you an example. I was telling some friends of mine about going to my colleague’s hen do, without much intrigue, until I mentioned that the hen had a learning disability. This group of well-educated, open-minded (and also very nice) people was totally unaware that someone with a learning disability would want to, or even could be allowed to, get married.

It’s no wonder that so many people lack awareness or understanding of what having a disability is like – the ‘average’ person will not go to school, work, or live alongside someone with a disability. So there is no reason why they should know, or want to know, much about these people who are invisible in their world. And this invisibility makes it possible for huge numbers of disabled people to be victims of hate crime, to die needlessly in the NHS, and to have their financial and social care support stripped away, without much opposition from most people.

So what can we – as an organisation, as a sector and as a society do to change this? There is of course no easy answer to this question, and no simple solution to this very complex problem. While we must focus some of our efforts on long-term change, part of our job must also be to challenge attitudes towards disabled people that aren’t what they should be in the here and now.

At Mencap we recently found ourselves responding to two separate incidents of vitriolic anti-disability sentiment from one would-be and one current local councillor, both advocating that disabled children should be killed – or not allowed to be born – because they cost taxpayers too much money and were a burden on their family and the state. As you can probably imagine, it was hard to put into words just how we felt at hearing such hateful views. But rather than fight fire with fire and spread the hate, we encouraged people to respond on social media with messages of love and strength: parents sharing stories of how much joy and pride their disabled children bring to their lives, adults with a learning disability writing blogs on the contribution they make to their families, workplaces and communities, all using #notaburden. Thousands of people took part in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter, and potentially hundreds of thousands of people saw the tweets and posts.

This was such a powerful way to refute the uninformed and hugely insulting comments, putting real disabled children and their families at the heart of the outrage. It also gave us the opportunity to give uninitiated people an insight into the life of a dad, aunt or sister of a disabled person, with one clear message: ‘I wouldn’t change it for the world’. While this alone may not have had a big impact on society, it is an example of how negative attitudes can be challenged and positive attitudes instilled. All it took was people with real experience of disability – disabled people, their family and friends – to give others a glimpse into their lives, and let them see for themselves.

If you would like to submit your story or find out more about the Game Changers community, visit the Game Changers website.