Attitudes towards disabled people

I live in a bubble.  Most of the people I talk to live in a bubble.  We surround ourselves with people with similar views, values, thoughts.

But we need to get out of our bubble from time to time or we miss some of the major problems in our society.

I’m willing to bet that almost everyone I know considers themselves to be accepting of disabled people.  I am willing to bet that almost everyone I know considers disabled people to be of value.


“A poll in June 2010 by the leading social care organisation Turning Point of over 1,000 members of the public found that nearly a quarter of those polled believed that disabled people should live in institutions, and nearly one in ten that they should be cared for out of town, in a secure hospital. One-third of those surveyed believed that disabled people could not live independently or undertake employment.”

(as quoted in Scapegoat by Katharine Quamby, I couldn’t find the original report)

Another survey, four years later found that:

Two thirds (67%) of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people.

Over a third (36%) of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else.

Over four fifths (85%) of the British public believe that disabled people face prejudice.

A quarter (24%) of disabled people have experienced attitudes or behaviours where

other people expected less of them because of their disability.

Over three quarters (76%) think of disabled people as needing to be cared for, and 13% think of disabled people as getting in the way some or most of the time

Just a third (33%) of British people said that they would feel comfortable talking to disabled people, with many worried that they will seem patronising or say the wrong thing

2014 report from Scope

Two thirds of people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to me.  One in ten people want to lock me in a secure facility outside of town.


And these are real people.  People who exist outside my bubble.

But sit them down at a table with me (preferably a table which hides the wheelchair and splints) and I really struggle to see how they’d then think I should be hidden away in the countryside.

13% of people think I get in the way… I have to say, I think they get in my way more than the other way around…

Again, as quoted in Scapegoat:

A recent poll from the charity Scope found that nearly 40% of people who are not disabled and do not have a disabled family member do not know any disabled people [that they are aware of…].

Only one in ten British people has ever invited a disabled person to their house for a social occasion, and only one in five has had a disabled work colleague.

(italics mine)

From my own experience I’m regularly treated as stupid, unable to communicate and childlike.

I have had carers who have obviously felt superior to me simply because they have better use and control of their limbs.  One of them talked to me using baby talk… (and nearly got a kick in the face when she tried to put on my “sockie wockies”…)

In shops, I am regularly ignored whilst strangers talk to my friend or carer.  The assumption being my wheelchair makes me unable to communicate effectively.

Strangers speak to me loudly and clearly, if they speak to me at all.  And they assume that I am public property.  They have a right to ask personal questions about my disability.  They have a right to move my wheelchair without telling me or asking me.

I had one guy try and help take off my coat.  I didn’t even know he was behind me.  He didn’t say anything just grabbed my sleeve…

I am routinely ignored and stared at in equal amounts.  I am pitied and praised, by strangers, simply for living.

Where do these attitudes come from?

For a more comprehensive answer, try a book like Scapegoat.  But for a quick run through of possibilities…

It’s not long ago that disabled people were locked away. Out of sight out of mind.  So society hasn’t had long to get to grips with, and understand, visibly disabled people.  The move away from institutions was around the 1970s and 80s.

There is research that disability hate crime is linked with poverty and deprivation.  Pressure on resources (which is especially high in poorer areas) leads to a pressure to find a scapegoat and disabled people often find themselves at the bottom of the pecking order.

A mix of government pressure on people to work and stigmatisation of people who do not work as well as propaganda which perpetrates the myth of the benefits scrounger.  Again, disabled people are at the bottom of the hierarchy of benefits claimants.

Attitudes may arise from, and crimes may be committed out of, ignorance, prejudice, power and fear of disability.  Becoming disabled can happen to anyone and thus disabled people make none disabled people face their own mortality simply by existing.  We’re powerful beings!

There is a weird jealousy of the ‘privileges’ of being disabled – disability benefits, blue badges, adaptations and people assume that disabled people are getting given things left,right and centre which is so far from the truth.

Images portrayed of disabled people tend to be unfavourable – whether it’s a film which uses disability as a shortcut for saying bitter and evil (think captain hook), or charities displaying us as pitiful and needy in order to raise money.  Even when they are more positive, such as the paralympians, they are not always helpful depictions – we can’t all be paralympians!

If you happen to be one of the 67% of people who feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people, please reflect on why.  And think about what you would say.  Asking about the disability is really not necessary.  Try the weather or a grumble about the length of the queue. 


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