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Sunday, May 30, 1999 Published at 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK


Disabled 'virtually invisible' in workplace

Only 14% of people say they work with disabled people

Disabled people are "virtually invisible" in the workplace, despite greater public awareness about equal rights, says a report.

A survey by the disability charity Leonard Cheshire found that only 14% of people worked with someone who was disabled.

And more than four in 10 people believe disabled people cannot do their job as well as a non-disabled person, even with adjustments.

"Disabled people and many employees believe employers follow the letter of the employment laws but not the spirit," says the charity's second annual report on social exclusion and disability.

It states that disability awareness has risen because of a plethora of government policies, which have brought the issue to the fore, including the proposal to cut disability benefits.

The media has also promoted disability, for example, through the Glenn Hoddle incident when the former England football manager was forced to resign over comments about reincarnation and disabled people.

But the report says: "Whilst awareness is being raised, the results of our survey would indicate that public understanding of disability is not.

"It is as much about ignorance, denial, low expectation and a lack of imagination as it is about physical access and resources," it says.

Patronising remarks

Increased awareness was shown by the fact that six out of 10 people surveyed said disabled people tended to be excluded, were not allowed to be useful members of society and did not have equal rights.

Very few said they thought people in wheelchairs were less intelligent than able-bodied people.

But disabled people said they often experienced patronising comments from the public.

One said: "People ask my family how I am, when I'm sat there myself. My sister has to say, well, ask her yourself, she's not going to bite you."

And nearly a quarter of the general public admitted they felt awkward and self-conscious in the presence of a disabled person.

Disabled people also stated that public attitudes to them added to physical difficulties of getting around and could prevent them from going out.

The report makes three key recommendations. It says:

  • Citizenship classes should include responsibilities to disabled people and equal rights
  • The new Disability Rights Commission should give high priority to promoting government action to change public attitudes to disability
  • The government should demonstrate leadership in changing employers' attitudes to employing the disabled and should take positive action to employ more disabled people at every level of central government

Bryan Dutton, director-general of Leonard Cheshire, said: "The latter part of the 20th century has seen Britain starting to overcome prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality.

"Disability is the fourth frontier that is society's key challenge as we move into the next century.

"This survey graphically illustrates the reality of the challenge society faces."

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