New analysis for the first time looks at research into public attitudes towards people with a learning disability.

The report, published today by Mencap and UCL (University College London), finds that there are many methods that have been successful in improving attitudes towards people.

These methods should be introduced for people with a learning disability, including:

  • An increase in direct contact with people with a learning disability.
  • Greater indirect contact via the positive media portrayals of learning disability.
  • Fighting for the rights of people with a learning disability to have equal participation in education, employment, social and leisure pursuits.
  • Education at an early age in schools on learning disability.

The report, 'Changing attitudes to learning disability: A review of the evidence', was written by Dr Katrina Scior and Dr Shirli Werner. It analyses what attitudes exist towards people with a learning disability and how negative attitudes are having a harmful effect on people’s lives. They also point to key actions that can be taken to improve how society treats people with a learning disability.

Mencap worked with the UCL to produce the report to better understand existing attitudes around learning disability so that that we can attempt to challenge wrong attitudes in the coming years.

Jan Tregelles, Chief executive of Mencap, said:

There’s a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to learning disability and this new report explains the harmful effects this is having to the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. In order to change this we need to highlight what attitudes are held and how we can effectively change them. 

Dr Katrina Scior of UCL said:

This report is an important moment for anyone connected to learning disability, as we now have a full and thorough analysis of what works and what doesn’t, which will provide a useful foundation to inform the sector’s future work on changing attitudes and ensure that people with a learning disability are able to live fulfilling lives.”

Our understanding how to effectively challenge negative attitudes and behaviour towards children and adults with a learning disability is very poor. This paper brings together research from a wide range of sources, painting a clear picture of what we know about how to change attitudes in this field.

We know that increasing positive media portrayals of learning disability, increased direct contact and a greater focus on inclusive activities for children and young people will help bring about more positive attitudes in the general public. I hope that this report will act as a wake-up call to alert people to where we are, what we know and - crucially - what more we need to find out and do to effectively change attitudes to learning disability.

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