Three out of five disabled people believe that public attitudes to disability have improved in the past two decades but a significant proportion still say that they experience discrimination, according to research by Scope.
The charity compared contemporary responses with those from 1994 to mark 20 years since it changed its name from The Spastics Society and found that, while discrimination had fallen, it was still common. For example, two decades ago, 38% of people surveyed said they were called names and 59% said they were stared at, while the equivalent modern-day figures were 17% and 30% respectively.
Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: “Over the last 20 years there have definitely been a lot of positive changes. There has been a lot of attitudinal change, legislation that’s been incredibly positive, but at the same time we know we have got further to go. Some of the experiences people have today shouldn’t be happening.”
He said there were still problems with employers, citing Scope’s finding that 42% of disabled people feel that they have missed out on a job “every time” or “a lot of the time” because of their disability. Hawkes said disability charities needed to demonstrate to employers that “minor changes” could help disabled people into their workplaces. He also criticised sections of the media, which he said portray disabled people as workshy when they are only too willing to work. Nevertheless, he said things had moved on from the relatively recent past when disabled people had been “segregated”. For those changes he credited “disabled people 20 years ago not being prepared to tolerate this. That led to theDisability Discrimination Act (introduced in 1995). As we see more disabled people in public life, that has an impact on everyone’s attitudes”. He said the 2012 Paralympic Games in London were a huge step forward. “In 2014, the challenge is to keep pushing for change so that disabled people can continue to play a greater role in society and be more and more visible in all aspects of daily life,” said Hawkes.
Scope changed its name because the word “spastic” had become a term of abuse. Hawkes said younger members of staff who joined the charity were often shocked when they heard about its previous name as they were only aware of use of the word “spastic” in a negative context, despite the fact that it was an established household charity name at the time. Scope is marking two decades since the name change by opening up its archives with the publication of an online gallery of images and research, tracking attitudes to disability over time.