Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Your opinion does not change reality

Yesterday I was reading an article by Naomi Jacobs that pondered a recent piece of research by Scope. According to the Scope research, 91% of Britons say that they believe disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else - yet 90% said that they had never had a disabled person come to their house socially.

Naomi pointed out that there are 11m disabled people in the UK and that this dissonance may be due to a poor understanding of disability issues. Yes, marginalisation of disabled people happens, for all sorts of reasons from prejudice and fear to physical access issues. But many people may well have worked with or socialised with a disabled person unknowingly, without understanding what "disabled" actually IS.

This was proved almost instantly in the comments with claims that there "can't be" that many disabled people, almost entirely on the basis that "it doesn't feel right."

Now, okay, CIF articles attract a lot of comments from people who are misinformed (or just trying to be antagonistic). However, Naomi had actually linked to a short and comprehensive document of Disability Facts and Figures(PDF) from the Papworth Trust, it's just nobody had bothered to click on it.

So. Some little summaries.

11 million disabled people in the UK:
6.9 million of working age
770,000 under 16 (83% of disabled people acquired disability during their working lives)
3.4 million people over retirement age.

1.2 million people in the UK are wheelchair users, which for many people is still the definition of disabled. However only 28% of these (about 336,000) are under 60. People often find it easier to accept that an older person may have impairments and often insist that these people "don't count" as disabled.

So if we take the common perception of disability as only applying to people of working age who are wheelchair users... that's about 0.5% of the UK population, a figure I am sure the naysayers would find much more palatable.

However, the DDA definition of disability is
“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

This means that as well as covering physical impairments that are visibly obvious to the layman such as the loss of a limb, it also covers everyone with less obvious but disablingly severe conditions such as learning difficulties, sight loss, hearing impairments, and mental health problems. Furthermore:
Medication or equipment (such as an artificial limb) which helps an impairment, is not taken into account when considering whether an impairment has a substantial effect.

Which means that the DDA also covers all the unnoticeable people walking around with conditions like epilepsy or diabetes or heart conditions, who with their medications are perfectly able to live entirely normal lives, but without their medications, would be hospitalised or dead.

All of a sudden, the 11m figure seems remarkably low. We're not "all a little bit disabled" (having to go to bed with a headache once in a while is not a substantial or long-term effect) but we probably all encounter disability much more than we think we do.

Endnote: Please bear in mind that the DDA definition of disability is very different to the one used for assessing disability benefits - for starters, benefits assessments assume that you have taken all your medication and that you have all the access equipment you could wish for (see the imaginary wheelchairs fiasco). So 11m disabled people does not mean 11m benefits claimants.

The Scope research was by ComRes and apparently used a statistically viable sample of GB adults that was weighted to be demographically representative, and 91% of them said disabled people should have the same opportunities as anyone else. Yet according to other research, this positive attitude is not carried through into reality. For example, a 2009 YouGovStone survey on behalf of IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) found that 73% of employers would not even consider hiring an older or disabled person and would therefore actively deny disabled people those opportunities. It was spun it as "27% of employers would consider hiring an older or disabled person," as if it's somehow praiseworthy that a whole quarter of employers are prepared to consider meeting their basic legal obligations. We've got a way to go.


evilstevie said...

In my current jobhunting, I'm getting impressed with the number of agencies actually advertising the fact that they are using the 'Two Ticks' scheme - so far it's been a massive majority. Granted this doesn't mean that the end-employers will actually act on it, but it's at least a sign that it's filtering through (last time, I can't remember a single agency that even mentioned it at all).

Madison Rose said...

Tim Harford discussed those very figures on Radio 4's "More or Less" today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tmt86/More_or_Less_10_09_2010/

(Apologies to any non-Brits: that link is only good for people in he UK, until 17th September.)