Disabled shut out by wall of prejudice

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The Independent Online
DISABLED people remain amongst the most excluded in society, with nearly one-third of people believing that those with disabilities are "less intelligent" than their able-bodied peers, according to a new survey.

The Leonard Cheshire, the leading disability care charity, says the findings of the NOP survey confirm that the public's attitude to disabled people remains a major problem and that the majority of people in Britain regard disabled people as socially excluded.

More than four in ten people believe it is virtually impossible to get a job if you are disabled and 53 per cent of the public has no regular contact with disabled people, rising to 60 per cent amongst under-35s.

The NOP survey of 1,000 adults was accompanied by two focus group discussions amongst disabled people. Members of the group said they had felt patronised, excluded, assumed to be stupid and treated as an inconvenience. "I want to be treated as a proper human being," said one participant. "Disabled people have a normal life as well - it's just that people treat the disabled differently." Another said: "I wanted to shout out, `I am alive. Don't ignore me.' "

There is acknowledgment by the public that disabled people are cut-off from the community. More than half of the people in the NOP survey said that disabled people tend to be excluded and not allowed to be useful members of society.

Many disabled people felt the prejudice they encountered was based on fear and wider ignorance. "They really do think it's catching ... they think you've got some kind of disease," said one person. More than 50 per cent of the survey participants said they had no contact with the disabled, although one in ten of the population has a disability.

More than one in five people also said that they became self-conscious and awkward in the presence of a disabled person, with more men than women admitting this. "I think a lot of people find disabled people offensive," said one disabled person. "They think they should be locked away."

Disabled people spoke of society's low expectations of them, of being assumed to be stupid because of their disability. "When I was in a wheelchair people would talk to the person pushing me and ignore me, like what's wrong with her," said one. "That really used to get on my tits. I used to think I can't walk but I can talk." In the survey 32 per cent said that a person in a wheelchair could not be intelligent.

Such discrimination and prejudice mean that it is very difficult for a disabled person to find a job and three-quarters of those questioned said if they became disabled their standard of living would fall. 41 per cent believed it was virtually impossible to get a job if you were disabled.

"I was shocked by the findings," said John Knight, author of the report and himself disabled. "We've all been lulled into a false sense of security because of all the noises about civil rights. Then you find a very broad section of society really has no interest or has very negative views. How is legislation going to work then?" He said the Government should try to combat such prejudice by making sure that issues were dealt with as early as primary school, and that disability, as well as poverty, should be seen as a cause of social exclusion. "Disabled people suffer poverty because of the attitudes which exclude them from society," he added.

l Access Denied: Disabled people's experience of social exclusion is available from Leonard Cheshire, 30 Millbank, London SW1P 2QN.

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