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Sunday, June 20, 1999 Published at 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK


Disabled complain of widespread bullying

People with learning difficulties face widespread harassment

Nearly nine out of 10 people with learning difficulties have been bullied and many face harassment on a regular basis, says a report.

Mencap's Richard Kramer: "A whole range of abuse is taking place"
The bullying ranges from name-calling and threats to actual physical attacks.

One women describes how she had stones thrown at her windows and fishing wire put across the gate so she fell over when she went out.

She was also told that people like her should be "put down at birth".

The report, Living in Fear, is published by charity Mencap which says young people are the most likely culprits because they see people with learning difficulties as easy targets.

The report is based on 904 questionnaires and focus group discussions. Two thirds of those who had been bullied experienced it on a regular basis.

Seventy-three per cent of respondents were harassed in public places, with two thirds being bullied by more than one person.

Many said they were afraid to go out because of the level of harassment.

Bullying very damaging

A quarter of people had been harassed on buses - much more than on any other form of transport.

Mencap says bullying can be very damaging, leading to depression, lack of confidence, irrational anger and loss of appetite.

Chief executive Fred Hedell said: "The amount of bullying that is being experienced by people with a learning disability is shocking.

"It is appalling that many of them are even scared to enter public places due to the fear of such harassment.

"The community has to be helped to confront its own prejudices so that everyone can live together without daily discrimination."

Mencap is calling for more effort to be made to increase awareness of the problem.

It specifically recommends:

  • That local authorities begin anti-bullying campaigns, working with social services, health and people with learning difficulties
  • That the new Disability Rights Commission carry out an education campaign on bullying and discrimination
  • That awareness programmes be required in all schools
  • That police show greater sensitivity to people with learning difficulties who complain of bullying and harassment.

A spokesman for disability charity Scope said the Mencap report seemed to back up previous research.

A Scope report last year of seven to 11-year-olds with varying disabilities found that they were much more likely to have been made to cry in the previous week than their non-disabled counterparts.

A 1995 survey of 1,500 disabled adults revealed that many had been called names and stared at. The spokesman said people tended to lump all disabilities together because of ignorance.

"Some people find difference challenging," he said.

[ image: Many people are bullied on public transport]
Many people are bullied on public transport
"But it may be that people with learning difficulties, like people with cerebral palsy or muscular impairments, are more likely to face discrimination because it is fairly obvious they are disabled."

He called for disability awareness training to be introduced in schools as well as anti-bullying campaigns.

And he added that more efforts needed to be made to encourage people with learning difficulties to complain about harassment and abuse.

"Underlying the bullying is often the fact that people do not realise they are taking responsibility for disabled people when they can take responsibility for themselves.

"This is just the thin edge of the wedge which can lead to bullying and emotional abuse."

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