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How other people think about you and act towards you can have a huge impact on how you view yourself and your role in society. An occasional moment of rudeness or being ignored may be a minor inconvenience or annoyance. But the more it happens, the more the impact adds up. And what if the negative attitudes and behaviours you experienced were not recognised by large numbers of people around you as being a problem? Despite progress made over the last two decades, this is still the case for disabled people in Britain today.

A recent research study by Scope has identified a disability perception gap, so I thought that I would share with you some of the key points of the findings in this blog. According to this report, the disability perception gap is the difference between the attitudes of non-disabled people and the reality of disabled people’s experiences in the UK.

For disabled people, being able to do the things we want to do, and being seen as more than our condition or impairment is crucial to being able to live the life we choose. Having a sense of self-worth and a purpose in life is fundamental to that – being able to work, socialise and travel as we would like, without encountering abuse, discrimination, or disregard.

A lack of understanding of disability and negative attitudes towards disabled people is still far too common in our society, and present one of the most significant barriers to disabled people living the lives they choose.

Attitudes and prejudicial behaviour can take a variety of forms. Whether a person with a disability doesn’t get a job because the manager thinks they’d be less productive than a non-disabled person, or the disabled person doesn’t want to use public transport because of other passengers’ comments and behaviour, prejudice can play a tangible role in reducing their everyday quality of life.

This problem has been long documented by Scope and others, but the pace of change has been far too slow. We need the government and cultural sectors to take the lead in addressing how disabled people can be more visible and better supported in public life. The time for concerted action is long overdue.

The Results

Negative attitudes and prejudice remain a major problem for disabled people – 32% of the disabled respondents to the survey said that there is a lot of prejudice against disabled people in Britain. Non-disabled people gave a very different response, with just 22% agreeing there is a lot of prejudice.

This represents a significant perception gap between disabled and non-disabled people. This could be because non-disabled people are simply unaware of the levels of prejudice faced by disabled people, and potentially aren’t conscious of their own prejudicial attitudes towards disabled people.

It was been found that disabled people frequently encounter small acts of negative behaviour such as:

  • wheelchair users finding other people let doors swing back on them rather than waiting to hold the door open
  • people speaking to a friend or carer and talking in the third person, rather than to the disabled person directly
  • service staff in shops and restaurants ignoring disabled customers
  • ‘sighs’ and ‘tuts’ from others.

Any one of these incidents by themselves may not be seen by a non-disabled person as much more than a small social faux pas, but for disabled people they can add up to a constant background of negative attitudes and behaviours which present a significant barrier to living the lives they choose.

One of the clearest illustrations of where peoples’ perceptions differ from reality is around the number of disabled people in the UK. When asked what percentage of the population are disabled, 60% of respondents to the survey said they thought it was 20% or less, with 41% estimating the level at 10% or less. The actual level is 22%. The scale of the perception gap towards disabled people is concerning and indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes disability.

Closing the Gap

What can you do to narrow the disability perception gap? You can read Scope’s report here and in a future blog we’ll look at what else you can do, whether you are disabled or non-disabled.

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