Lord Victor AdebowaleThe London Paralympics has had a lasting positive effect on the public’s views of people with learning disabilities, according to new research.

A survey by social care organisation Turning Point found that, a year after the Paralympics, a third of Britons feel that the Games meant they now had a more positive impression of those with a learning disability.

The London Paralympics was the first since 2000 at which people with a learning disability were allowed to compete. This research shows the power of large-scale public events in changing the public’s attitude towards those living with a learning disability.

Living standards deteriorating

But the study also showed that the British public consider the experience of those living with a learning disability in the UK to be deteriorating. In a marked increase from a similar survey conducted in 2010, nearly two-thirds of the British public think those living with a learning disability are discriminated against more than any other group in society.

Furthermore, more than a third drew particular attention to discrimination in housing and healthcare costs. This reflects the well-documented pressure on resources in these areas, which is being felt among all groups in society.

The study also revealed a lack of knowledge about the needs of those with a learning disability, and even of what constitutes a learning disability. For example, 40% of people wrongly believe that mental illness is a learning disability and 36.1% of people wrongly believe that cerebral palsy is.

This lack of understanding extends to the life experience and needs of those with a learning disability. Despite the fact that more than half of people believe that those with a learning disability should live in the community more than 20% of people still believe that the most suitable housing arrangement is a care home or secure hospital.

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point, said: “It is positive that a third of people think that the London Paralympics has changed their perception of people with a learning disability for the better. High profile events like this which focus on ability rather than disability go a long way towards breaking down the stigma and discrimination which clearly still exists.”

“However, we need to use the legacy of events like these to ensure real change in the day to day lives of people with a learning disability. Changing perceptions is just the start.”