By Maximilian Clarke

Two in three Britons have avoided people with disabilities because they don’t know how to act around them, whilst the economic downturn is fuelling a growing antipathy towards those with disabilities, research from BT suggests.

The research, commissioned to highlight the issues faced by disabled people in the workplace, also showed that, attitudes appear to have hardened during the recession. A third of those questioned demonstrated hardened negative attitudes towards the disabled. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).

Yet in seemingly contradictory findings, 85% of people feel that their employers could do more to create greater employment and career progression for disabled people, but only 42% think employers should make more reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities.

“It’s very sad that, in the 21st Century, with the London 2012 Paralympic Games less than a year away, so many people still fail to see the potential behind the disability,” commented Caroline Waters, BT’s Director of People and Policy. “In order to give some people a fair chance, you sometimes need to treat them differently. Until we understand that fair doesn’t always mean the same, our society will unnecessarily compound any limiting effects of disability and continue to waste the potential of thousands of our fellow citizens. It is time to accept that our attitudes can be, and often are, more damaging than the disability itself.”

Only 26% of people class facial disfigurement as a disability and more than a third (34%) don’t consider hearing loss to be a disability.

James Partridge, Founder & Chief Executive of Changing Faces, a charity which supports and represents people with facial, hand or body disfigurement, added: “I understand that it’s instinctively difficult not to look at someone who has a disability. But for the person themselves, that looking, which can happen every day whenever they are in a public place or at work, can feel like staring and be very intrusive and undermining. This latest survey shows that the UK still has a long way to go before people with disabilities are treated as equal members of our society. It is important that employers lead by example in helping to dispel the myths and misconceptions and help people to feel at ease in the presence of people with disabilities — and vice versa — which is what BT is aiming to do today for its people and many of its suppliers too.”

Some 60% of Britons admit to staring at disabled people because they are different, with more than half of people (51%) admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time, with more men (54%) admitting to being uncomfortable compared to women (50%).


Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness