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16th May 2016

Attitudes to challenge

Why, in an enlightened society, do we still persist in alienating and bullying people with disability?

The Home Office issues an annual report on Hate Crime that provides statistics on the number of reported incidents of harassment, hostility, assault and other crimes that are reported to the police. The most recent of these reports a 25% increase in reported incidents against people with disability.

Whilst this has been suggested to be a result of better levels of awareness, so a greater number of otherwise unreported incidents being identified, there are others who feel that this is under-representing a growing and worrying trend. Stephen Brookes, who coordinates the Disability Hate Crime Network, says that there are 60,000 hate crimes against disabled people every year and “the majority were never reported."

Fear and discomfort

If you work with disabled people, then you will no doubt have been aware of the way society as a whole responds to the presence of people who are ‘different’ in their midst. Its not always as overt as name calling or outright hostility, although this does still happen. It’s the subtle reactions; when you are seated in a restaurant and people avoid sitting beside you or actively move away. It’s the way mothers might haul their children away from passing too closely in the street.

For thirty or more years we have been banging on about ‘community presence’ and ‘community participation’, but it still feels that we have not come close to this as a reality for people with learning disabilities. I know of many dreadful examples of appalling public behaviour around people who are obviously different, some from the 1950s and 1960s but others from just last week. Have we changed nothing?

Ashamed to speak out?

A recent viral video clip doing the rounds on Facebook shows a man speaking frankly to camera about his own reaction to an incident where he did not intervene in supporting a positive view of disability. The video is uncomfortably emotional; the guy says that by not enlightening a stranger’s child he did a huge disservice to his own son, who has Down’s Syndrome. He allowed a negative view of disability to persist.

We all have a responsibility to represent the people we support in a positive light, either by our words or our actions. I would suggest that those reading this would state that they do and could cite examples of where they have stepped up to protect or defend a person against hostile or negative behaviour.

It is vital that we don’t let the risk of negative reactions get in the way of people participating in life. Every time we help a person with disability to access the community we have an opportunity to present them in a positive way. Make sure you take advantage of every chance to make a good impression when you are out and about with the people you support.

Mencap have a report which reviews evidence about changing attitudes to people with a learning disability that you can download here:

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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