BT Press Releases

DC11-288                                                                 December 2, 2011

Three out of five people in the North East avoid disabled people

Recession intensifies negative feelings

More than half (63 per cent) of people in the North East avoid disabled people because they don’t know how to act around them, according to new research sponsored by BT.

According to 37 per cent of those questioned, attitudes appear to have hardened during the recession. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (47 per cent), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (38 per cent) and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (31 per cent).

Yet in seemingly contradictory findings more than three-quarters (86 per cent) of people in the North East feel that their employers could do more to create greater employment and career progression for disabled people, yet nearly half (42 per cent) think employers should make more reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities.

Chris Sayers, BT’s North East regional director, said: “It’s very sad that, in the 21st Century, with the London 2012 Paralympic Games less than a year away, so many people in the North East still fail to see the potential behind the disability. In order to give some people a fair chance you sometimes need to treat them differently.

“Until we understand that fair doesn’t always mean the same, our society will unnecessarily compound any limiting effects of disability and continue to waste the potential of thousands of our fellow citizens. It’s time to accept that our attitudes can be, and often are, more damaging than the disability itself.”

The survey was conducted to coincide with BT’s ‘Ready, Willing and Disabled’ event at its headquarters in London on December 1, 2011.

Only 25 per cent of people class facial disfigurement as a disability and more than a third (37 per cent) don’t consider hearing loss to be a disability.

James Partridge, founder & chief executive of Changing Faces, a charity which supports and represents people with facial, hand or body disfigurement, said: “I understand that it’s instinctively difficult not to look at someone who has a disability. But for the person themselves, that looking, which can happen every day whenever they are in a public place or at work, can feel like staring and be very intrusive and undermining. This latest survey shows that the UK still has a long way to go before people with disabilities are treated as equal members of our society. It is important that employers lead by example in helping to dispel the myths and misconceptions and help people to feel at ease in the presence of people with disabilities – and vice versa – which is what BT is aiming to do today for its people and many of its suppliers too.”

More than half of people (52 per cent) in the North East say disabled people are stared at because they are different, with 41 per cent admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time.

Case Study
Chris Stapleton is a BT employee who has benefited from BT’s support in the workplace since he was diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS in 2008. He explains that the support he has received is invaluable in terms of making his working life easier and giving him confidence in his profession. He said: “As my MS has progressed and my mobility and stamina have declined, my managers have been wonderfully supportive with every possible adjustment made to help make things easier and less stressful for me. It’s really important for me to be able to continue working and the support BT provides makes my job much more manageable. Their support also makes me feel like I am a valued employee and that I am taken seriously in my role. Often small changes make the biggest difference, it’s just about understanding each person individually and finding out what would make their working life easier.”


Notes to Editors
BT’s disability survey canvassed 3,000 people across the UK - 126 in the North East
Further results at a glance in the North East
• 35 per cent think disabled people are treated differently because there is a lack of knowledge around disability
• 52 per cent of the respondents assume disabilities are physical
• Only ten per cent of people saying they would consider mental disability when told that a person is disabled
• The report indicates that people would want to assist a disabled person if they required help but they are unsure of the right thing to do; 33 per cent would want to help someone having an epileptic fit and 31 per cent would want to help a wheelchair user in difficulty but wouldn’t know what to do in either instance


About BT support for its people
BT strives to accommodate the needs of all their people by removing barriers for disabled employees and providing proactive guidance and support:
• Disability support, including support for those with MS, is offered to all new employees via BT’s induction process
• BT provides work place support to those affected by MS including coping skills for people with memory loss, voice recognition software and different computer screens for people with vision impairment
• By offering flexible working BT employees are able to adjust their attendance patterns to help balance their business needs with those of the business
• BT’s disability network provides an opportunity to network with colleagues who have the same condition and share hints and tips on overcoming barriers. BT’s Carers Network supports employees with caring responsibilities and signposts employees towards sources of help and support, internal and external
• BT’s ‘Working with MS’ factsheet helps BT people to understand more about the condition and the simple adjustments that can be made to help people carry on working
• A recent MS Masterclass, in conjunction with the MS Society, supported people with MS and those who care for someone with MS, together with their colleagues and line managers
• BT’s ‘Disability Passport’ scheme supports a dialogue between the individual and their line manager to explore how individual and business needs can be met and helps employees get across their needs to a new manager without having to repeat themselves