It was a typical Friday night in London, sitting next to the toilets in a busy pub, laughing at jokes I couldn’t quite hear over the speakers. At one point during the night someone started trawling to the back of the pub with their bike, heading straight towards the toilets. They took out some keys and unlocked the disabled toilet, revealing that it was being used as a makeshift bike shed for staff. As an able-bodied person I was shocked, but I imagine that people with disabilities must notice this kind of disregard for disabled access on a daily basis.
With the support of charities, disabled people have gained legislative successes over the last two decades (e.g. through The Equality Act 2010), so that instances like I encountered last Friday are less common. However, according to the latest findings from our Charity Awareness Monitor, prejudices still exist. A large proportion of the general public still believes that people with certain disabilities would find it difficult to keep a job. For example, only a quarter of the public think that someone with a physical disability would find it either not very easy or not at all easy to keep a job (41%), while this doubt increases when asked about someone with a learning disability (48%).
Thinking about the prejudices disabled people still face and the discrimination that people with specific disabilities are disproportionately affected by, I reflected on campaigns I’ve seen in the past year that challenge the way many able-bodied people might think about disability.
Last month Mencap launched their campaign Here I am: Understand Me. The campaign’s video shows a man with Down’s syndrome using his DJ skills to remix and amend a voice recording that says “a downs’ is not a person”. The man is literally changing perception of himself with his work. The video then directs people to an online question and answer tool where Aeren, who has a chromosome abnormality, explains what a learning disability is through real-time FAQs.
2. That Maltesers’ and Scope advert
It was praised by some for normalizing disability by portraying a woman’s sex life in a funny way, but others considered it tacky. But it can’t be denied that the series of Maltesers adverts that were aired during the 2016 Paralympics on Channel 4 showed diversity which is so often lacking in the TV industry.
3. The hashtag #ableismexists
While not a charity campaign, Dominick Evans’ Twitter hashtag pushed the term “ableism” into the mainstream and gave voice to ordinary people to describe the hurdles they face on a daily basis.
National Autistic Society is continuing its Too Much Information campaign to motivate people to take action and call for the Government to increase the employment rates of autistic people. By placing the viewer in the shoes of an autistic person going for job interviews, audiences are reminded of being in that nerve-wracking situation themselves, but with the added difficulties that someone with the condition has.
While people with disabilities have gained more legal rights in the workplace, our research shows that there are still lingering perceptions that people with certain disabilities are not capable. People with disabilities are still being patronised and denied opportunities, whether it’s jobs, representation in the media or living independently. Charity adverts like the ones that caught my eye may challenge pre-conceived notions about disabled people; but unless campaigns go beyond short video clips that show up on my Twitter feed and create a dialogue with the general public, like Mencap’s Aeern does, or if these campaigns target places such as schools and workplaces, then I wonder how long it will take for these campaigns to no longer be needed.
If you’d like to find out more about our research with the public, you can download the briefing pack attached to this blog. Alternatively, you can contact our Publics team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss how this research could help you.