A year after the 'breakthrough moment' of the Paralympics, attitudes towards the disabled have been slow to change, according to disability groups.
Cuts to disability benefits and the government's ill-judged 'shirkers vs skivers' campaign have thrown something of a spanner into the works of public perception of the disabled, with 81% of those surveyed saying they felt attitudes hadn't improved. 22% felt attitudes had actually got worse.
According to a survey by disability charity Scope, negative perceptions have been driven by the government and media:
84% of those that say attitudes have got worse saying the ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric from politicians and the media has had a negative effect on views of disabled people. The poll by Opinium found that nearly one in five (17%) of disabled people report they have either experienced hostile or threatening behaviour or even been attacked.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say they 'very consciously do not use the language of 'scroungers' and 'workshy', but when even the likes of Iain Duncan Smith aren't above misusing statistics to imply that claimants are fraudulent, it's hardly reassuring. A further division between those with visible disabilities compared to those without has been highlighted by campaigners — leading to a climate of disbelief and hostility.
Despite the huge public enthusiasm for the Paralympics, its success has proved a bit of a double-edged sword with athletes being held up as aspirational examples for disabled people. But as Paralympic dressage rider Sophie Christiansen says:
"I still have problems in terms of paying for carers, things that people don't realise. People think that because I won three gold medals I've got my life sorted. But I want to highlight what a struggle it is to get there."
It was politically unfortunate for the government that public protest around disability cuts happened to coincide with their appearance at the Paralympics, and spectators weren't slow to let the government know how they felt. Chancellor George Osborne, memorably, was booed by crowds at the stadium last year. The decision by ATOS to sponsor the games also sparked protests.
Some disabled people attempting to get into sport have reported reluctance on the part of sports clubs to accept them over health and safety fears along with unsuitable facilities, poor access and lack of staff training. A survey by the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) found just one in three clubs had proper access for disabled people with only 8% having appropriately-trained staff. SRA chairman Andy Reed said:
"The fact that only three in 10 sports clubs are offering facilities to disabled people after the Paralympics shows that there is no magic bullet. We can get excited about the explosion of interest the Paralympics caused, but for many the effect has yet to filter through."
Photo by Tim Rich & Lesley Katon in the Londonist Flickr pool.