New evidence of “ableism” – prejudice and discrimination faced by people with disability according to ESRI report

January 23 2024, 09:13am

ESRI Report

Negative stereotypes of some disabilities may be used to justify prejudice, according to new research from the ESRI. The study investigated different forms of “ableism” – the stigma and discrimination faced by people with disabilities.

In an innovative experimental survey, funded by the National Disability Authority, a representative sample of 2000 adults read short scenarios describing potential discrimination, such as a qualified candidate failing to secure a job. Respondents read different versions of the scenarios, which varied by whether the individual had a disability, the type of disability they had and their gender. The version each respondent read was selected at random.

Across all scenarios, the public generally judged potential prejudice against disabled people as unacceptable. However, the results revealed a pattern where higher levels of ableism were recorded towards mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities and autism than physical or sensory disabilities. For example, respondents judged it to be more acceptable to reduce the school hours of a child with autism than a child with a speech and language disorder, despite other all details being the same.

The study also revealed a connection between ableism and sexism. In a scenario about a single parent starting a new relationship, respondents judged doing so to be significantly less acceptable for a physically disabled woman than a man with the same disability.

One notable finding from the study is that respondents most familiar with disability, such as those with lived experience of disability or whose partner or child has a disability, showed lower levels of ableism across all scenarios.

“Although most people express positive attitudes towards people with disability, subtle ableist beliefs may pose a significant challenge for disabled people,” said Dr Shane Timmons, lead author of the study.

“We see that some forms of ableism may depend on the social situation, the nature of someone’s disability or even on their gender. Not being familiar with a disabled person is associated with stronger ableist beliefs, so improving the inclusion of disabled people in communities and workplaces may help to combat this prejudice and discrimination.

Dr Aideen Hartney, Director of the National Disability Authority, welcomed the research and said: “this research improves our understanding in relation to attitudes towards disabled people. Work is underway currently to develop a new National Disability Strategy and these findings can help inform the actions to reduce discrimination and ableism in society.” 

Click here to download the full report published on 23 January 2024