Are Attitudes to Disabled People Changing?

A new piece of research published last month (July 2014) conducted by the Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) has found that attitudes towards disabled people are changing – for the worse. It suggests that the level of unconscious bias against disabled people is 8% higher now than it was before the Paralympics in 2012.

There is a common perception that attitudes towards disabled people are much more positive, particularly as a result of the Paralympics, but this study measured two things:

  • If unconscious attitudes towards people with disabilities has changed since the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
  • If the strength of unconscious bias against disabled people is stronger than for the characteristics of gender and race.

The assumption was that the positive role models shown in the 2012 Paralympic Games would reduce unconscious bias levels against disabled people by challenging negative perceptions. However, the study shows that unconscious bias levels have risen by 8% since the 2012 Paralympic Games, from a pre-Paralympic rate 31.8% of test subjects showing unconscious bias that affected their behaviour to 39.5% post-Paralympics.

The research also shows disabled people to be the group that suffers from the highest amount of unconscious bias when compared with gender and ethnicity, with one in three of those taking part in the study showing at least a moderate level of unconscious bias against people with visible impairments.

This is disturbing, and explains why it is still so difficult for disabled people to find employers who are enlightened enough to see beyond their impairments. There is clearly an urgent need to recruiters and employers to challenge their own biases, and perhaps attend training or awareness-raising about these issues.

Until disabled people become part of the “mainstream” work environment, this is a difficult issue to conquer. At Evenbreak, we have found that those employers who have a history of employing disabled people are very keen to employ more, as the experience has been very positive for them. Those who have yet to take that leap may be held back by ungrounded fears and myths that will only be properly challenged by looking at the evidence from a neutral, rather than a biased, perspective.

enei suggest some key recommendations in their report which include:

  1. Measure the levels of unconscious bias of recruiters and key decision makers to raise awareness of bias.
  2. Encourage recruiters to put forward more candidates with disabilities to break down stereotypes and build more role models.
  3. Review positive action programmes and the process for agreeing reasonable adjustments.
  4. Review the impact of disability initiatives such as ‘two ticks’ and the ‘Disability Confident Campaign’ to ensure they are producing long term and lasting effects on the experiences of disabled people
  5. Use positive disabled role models to show the positive effect disabled people can have at work. Focus on their achievements at work and not on their disability
  6. Encourage honest discussions about disability in the workplace. Train line managers about different types of disabilities and how to talk to someone about their disability, giving them the confidence to have effective communication with different types of people.

The study can be downloaded here, and more information about enei is here.

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2 thoughts on “Are Attitudes to Disabled People Changing?

  1. How do we know or do we care that this change in attitude had anything to do with the Para Olympics? The measurement occurred as the recession and unemployment was just starting to improve, but still two times higher among people with disabilities. It makes sense that the able bodied see people with disabilities in hard economic times much like they see minorities and immigrants- as people who are vying for the few available jobs. Negative stereotyping gets worse as it becomes more important to mitigate the implied threat of “other” groups.


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