Australian attitudes towards people with a disability are still largely negative, a Social Policy Research Centre project has found.

The project, which investigated public attitudes on disability, was commissioned by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

The review of Australian and international literature found that younger, more educated people and those with a personal familiarity with disability have more positive attitudes; people were more comfortable dealing with disability than with psychiatric illness; negative attitudes of both teachers and students are a barrier to inclusive education; and employer misconceptions stop people with a disability or mental illness gaining employment.

Co-author, Associate Professor Karen Fisher, said the most significant finding was the lack of understanding of the impact these negative attitudes have on people’s lives.

“There is a research gap in this area,” she said. “One of the reasons that change is slow in Australia is because we are not acknowledging that our approach is piecemeal.”

The report found that New Zealand and the UK have more strategically invested in campaigns to change attitudes and conduct regular surveys to measure the change. The introduction of the ABC’s online forum, Ramp Up, last year is an example of where Australia is also making positive moves.

The project concluded that strategies to change community attitudes are most effective when they include policies on three levels; personal, organisational and structural.

Associate Professor Fisher said awareness and personal contact with people with disability needed to be encouraged, as well as communication in employment, education and health organisations and that policy and legislation needed to be revised.

“It is also crucial that people with disability are included in the design and implementation of policies and that those policies are sufficiently resourced to reinforce positive attitudes towards the disability experience.”

Read the full report here.

Media contact:  Fran Strachan | 9385 8732