Skills for the Job: Tackling disability prejudice

Children's professionals must recognise all forms of disability prejudice so that they can effectively tackle it.

How prevalent is disability prejudice?

In the UK, there are 180 disability hate crimes every day. As with all prejudice, it's easy for those who don't feel negatively affected by it to dismiss the prevalence of biases. A report last year revealed that unconscious bias against disabled people has actually risen by eight per cent since the Paralympics, and that one in three of those who took part in the study demonstrated unconscious bias against people who are visibly disabled.

What different forms can it take?

Disability prejudice takes many forms, all equally unacceptable, and it can affect every area of a person's life. Many of these forms stem from the notion that those with disabilities are outside the norm, and that their disability is a negative thing to be overcome. The figures show, however, that one in 20 children have a disability, rising to one in five working age adults. This demonstrates that a "norm" is a myth and while the idea exists, it continues to oppress those who do not fit within its boundaries.

A common form of disability prejudice is assumptions of what a person with disabilities can and can't do. No one has exactly the same abilities as anyone else, so we should focus on enabling everyone to participate.

Lack of accessibility and poor facilities are still stopping disabled children and young people from enjoying opportunities that are available to others. For instance, seeing a live music performance is not as simple as just buying a ticket. Even if the venue has a wheelchair ramp, you might be seated far away from your family and friends. Accessibility includes consideration of handrails, stairs, hearing access, notification of flashing lights and loud noises, availability of a quiet space away from crowds, large print programmes and access for carers. These are just the basics. There are many other complex needs that make it difficult for disabled people to participate fully or at all. Parents of children with autism, for example, can find it almost impossible to go to concerts or shows because of the negative reaction of other people towards their child's behaviour.

How can you work with a young person who displays disability prejudice?

Disability prejudice grows from a lack of understanding. Many of those who display prejudice are insecure about how to act around those with disabilities, which can lead to bullying or avoidance. To tackle this head on, we need to create opportunities for children and young people of all abilities to work together collaboratively. We have found that creative programmes lend themselves particularly well to these kinds of collaborations, where people can explore different modes of communication through sound, music, art or movement. Working with young people in a school, nursery or community centre provides a controlled environment, which you can make into a safe space by encouraging open discussions and providing everyone with a chance to contribute.

What support can help victims of prejudice?

Fear and loss of confidence are two common consequences of disability prejudice, so it is important that people with disabilities are given support in these areas. This could take the form of confidence-building exercises, which could be realised through group work. When people's ideas are used, they gain further confidence to make themselves heard in the future.

Another important aspect of support is listening. When people feel that they are being listened to, it becomes easier for them to develop trusting relationships which are essential to positive mental wellbeing.

Nicky Goulder, co-founder and chief executive of Create

Top tips

  • Keep your ears open and challenge any offensive language, regardless of whether it is directed at a disabled person or used in casual conversation
  • Create a welcoming environment in which everyone's contribution is valued and appreciated. Focus on ability, rather than disability
  • Encourage diversity within social interactions, enabling children and young people to meet others from different backgrounds
  • Make disabled role models visible. It is important for children and young people to see positive imagery which demonstrates that everyone can contribute

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