Ten years on from closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, new research carried out by Spirit of 2012 shows that while they were a turning point for changing attitudes to disabled people, there is still much more to do.

New polling confirms the seminal place that the London 2012 Paralympic Games has in our national narrative about disability inclusion, but argues that much more progress must be made when it comes to improving attitudes towards disability. Spirit of 2012 has carried out new research which found that 70 per cent of people in the UK believe the sporting spectacle had a positive impact on attitudes.

And just weeks after the Birmingham Commonwealth Games staged a fully integrated para sport programme, nearly three-quarters of respondents said including athletes with disabilities helps to change attitudes. But the ICM poll of 2,350 adults across the UK shows there are limits to what sport can achieve, as more than two-thirds of people (68 per cent) said there is prejudice against disabled people in the country.

Overall, 70 per cent of people say that attitudes towards disabled people have generally improved since the Paralympic Games, compared to just six per cent who believe they have got worse.

Focus groups conducted alongside the survey were almost universally positive about London 2012. Contributors also cited programmes such as the Last Leg, Katie Piper on Loose Women and comedian Rosie Jones on Love Island After Sun as key ways of shifting attitudes and normalising disability. One in five of survey respondents said more coverage of disabled celebrities was key to changing attitudes.

The new study also found the vast majority of people (83 per cent) believe that many people don’t understand the needs of people with a hidden disability such as epilepsy or chronic fatigue.

And while Covid-19 has increased their awareness of and empathy for those with long-term health conditions who had to shield during the pandemic, for some there hasn’t been a significant reduction in prejudice. Two-thirds of disabled people (67 per cent) said that Covid-19 was still disrupting their social lives, meaning essential opportunities for social interaction between disabled and non-disabled people may be decreasing.

These findings will be discussed at a summit today (Thursday 8 September) involving experts from across sport, disability and government. The event in Birmingham will reflect on how attitudes have changed over the last decade, as well as the impact of the current cost-of-living crisis.

The roundtable will be attended by a specially-invited group of delegates including Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the creators of Critical Mass, an inclusive dance project funded by Spirit of 2012 as part of the recent Birmingham games.

Paralympic GB wheelchair racer, 11-time Paralympic gold medallist and Spirit of 2012 Patron, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said the findings show that the UK should be proud of the Games – but there are still huge challenges for disabled people across society.

The polling shows that while sporting and cultural events can be effective in changing attitudes and raising awareness, the following actions are needed to build on this:

  • Improve access to venues for disabled athletes and spectators.
  • Disabled people need to be involved in the planning of events.
  • Broadcast media has a role to play in explaining categories in sporting events relating to para-athletes competing in combined impairment group classifications.

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said: “London 2012 was an incredible event and we should celebrate everything that the Games delivered. But it is hard to expect a Games to deliver all the social change that disabled people require to lead equitable lives in the UK

Susie Rogers MBE, Paralympic gold medallist and multiple medal winner at London 2012 and Rio 2016 in swimming, Technical Advisor on Disability Inclusion in the Energy, Climate and Environment Directorate of the FCDO said: “The London 2012 Games – and the Paralympic movement as a whole – has been instrumental in changing attitudes towards disability, as this polling confirms. I was proud to be a part of it. But it also demonstrates that much more needs to be done to change attitudes – and showcasing elite disabled performance through major events is only a small part of the bigger story. Work such as Critical Mass and Activity Alliance’s Get Out Get Active programme show the benefits of disabled and non-disabled people participating in activities together.”

Ruth Hollis, chief executive of Spirit of 2012, said: “London 2012 was a turning point for changing attitudes to disabled people – but there’s still much to be done. This polling shows that elite sporting events such as the Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games can help change attitudes towards inclusivity and be effective in changing attitudes and awareness, more work is needed to create the right conditions for this to happen.

“The research also tells us just how tough things have been for disabled people through the pandemic, and how so many of those challenges continue to impact their daily lives. Given the current challenges facing everyone, it’s more important than ever that we use the spirit of 2012 as a platform going forward.”

We will be sharing the outcomes of the discussion, alongside more evidence from our focus groups, in a working paper in the autumn. To find out more and contribute to this work please contact Amy Finch: [email protected]

Poll methodology: 2,350 UK adults aged 18+ online from 5-11 August 2022. Data weighted to be representative of UK adults by age, gender, region and socio-economic characteristics. ICM Unlimited is the specialist social research and insight team at Walnut Unlimited, a member of the British Polling Council.

Key findings:

Q) Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  • The London 2012 Paralympic Games had a positive impact on attitudes to disabled people: Net agree 70%; Net disagree 6%.
  • Including disabled athletes in big events such as the Birmingham Commonwealth Games helps change attitudes to disabled people: Net agree 73%; Net disagree 6%.

Q) Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  • Many people don’t understand the needs of people with hidden disabilities e.g. epilepsy or chronic fatigue: Net agree 83%; Net disagree 3%.

Q) Generally speaking, do you think there is prejudice towards disabled people?

  • In Britain as a whole: A lot/little 68%; Hardly any/none 17%.

Q) How often, if at all would you say you normally have the opportunity to meet and interact with people who are disabled?

  • Sometimes/often: 48%; Rarely/ever: 50%.

Full tables here.