Attitudes towards disabled people appear to be improving slightly, according to figures from a national survey.
The Public Perceptions of Disabled People report by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) found that just 17 per cent of the public said they viewed disabled people with “discomfort or awkwardness”, compared with 22 per cent four years earlier.
And 85 per cent of those questioned said they thought of disabled people as “the same as everybody else”, compared with 77 per cent four years before.
The figures were taken from the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey, and were compared with a similar survey in 2005.
But they also suggest that people with learning difficulties or mental health conditions are more likely to face prejudice than those with sensory or physical impairments.
Many of those surveyed were uncomfortable with the idea of people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties being in positions of authority, with only two-fifths of people saying they would be very or fairly comfortable with having an MP with learning difficulties or a mental health condition.
The report also says that three-quarters of those surveyed thought of disabled people as needing to be cared for some or most of the time, a similar level to 2005.
The survey also suggests that disabled people are less likely to express views in line with the social model of disability – that barriers in society prevent disabled people living a full life – than non-disabled people. But a majority of both disabled and non-disabled people said they believed that social barriers were a factor in causing disability.
The ODI report concludes: “People are less likely to think of disabled people as getting in the way or with discomfort and awkwardness. Conversely, they are more likely to think of disabled people as the same as everybody else.”
But it adds that, although “very few people express openly prejudiced views”, the evidence suggests that “a degree of ‘benevolent prejudice’ [the belief that disabled people need looking after rather than overt hostility] exists towards disabled people”.