Having Discomfort Around Folks with Disabilities is a Laughing Matter

Why do able-bodied people feel awkward interacting with those with disabilities? A study done in Great Britain sheds light on the real reason, and now a lighthearted TV ad campaign in that country is working to change those perceptions.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that able-bodied people are uncomfortable engaging with people with disabilities. This is a problem that has existed since time immemorial, and one that, while we are making strides, is still along way from being solved. What is surprising, however, is the reason why people are afraid to talk to people with disabilities.

A new report by Scope, a U.K.-based charity organization, revealed that 67% of the British public are awkward about engaging with people with disabilities, and the reason is startling. It’s not because able-bodied people feel uncomfortable about the disabilities themselves—it’s because they’re concerned about appearing patronizing.

This fear of saying the wrong thing, of not being sure exactly how to communicate with people who have disabilities, creates worry and awkwardness which, in turn, leads to more negative public attitudes directed towards people with disabilities. Perhaps most shocking of all is that it’s the current millennial generation who have the most problems. This is disheartening, as we like to believe that our children are coming up with more enlightened attitudes than the generation before.

In order to address these issues, Scope has created a new marketing campaign. The campaign is a series of advertisements on national television, using comedy to shine a light on the awkwardness. The spots are hosted by Alex Brooker, a popular Channel 4 comedian and presenter. Brooker, who has a prosthetic leg and suffers from hand and arm disabilities, guides the viewers through a number of awkward scenarios they might face.

Of the campaign, he says, “Some people can feel a bit awkward about disability but, more often than not, it’s coming from a good place because it’s someone not wanting to offend. I don’t see anything wrong with being curious. I would be if I saw someone different, and I’m disabled myself. It’s just about getting past that and feeling confident, because a disability is only a part of who someone is.”

The hope is that, by using a comedic approach, the videos will help people lighten up about their curiosity and get over the awkwardness and fear. Scope CEO Richard Hawkes said, “Awkward situations can be funny. We’ve all been in situations that made us cringe, but imagine if, every day, people avoided talking to you because they weren’t sure of what to say or how to act. That’s the situation that many disabled people face today. We wanted to raise this issue in a lighthearted way because it isn’t about pointing fingers.”

He goes on to say, “We’ve launched this campaign to get us all thinking about what we can do to include disabled people more in our lives.” Take a look at the two U.K. campaign ads below, followed by a blooper reel made while making the TV spots. What do you think? Would a campaign like this have an impact in the U.S.?


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