Attitudes toward the Disabled in Denmark

Statusberetning 2003

General attitudes toward the disabled

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General attitudes toward the disabled

The following remarks concern the Danish population's general attitudes toward the disabled, toward what it means to be disabled, their general attitude to the public sector's efforts to improve conditions for the disabled and their attitude toward disabled people's participation at the workplace.

What does it mean to be disabled?

The study first assessed what the population understood by the concept "disabled" (Danish: handicappet). Most adults are able to explain the term, while a minority have an unclear or no understanding of what it means. Among the unclear views are responses which refer only to examples of specific types of disability, such as those who refer to the blind, the deaf or wheel-chair users.

Danish adults, for example, believe that the disabled are people who deviate from the normal or average, people who can no longer get along without assistance, or people who have reduced or no ability to work and therefore find it difficult to obtain a job. According to the following understandings, the term "disabled" refers to:

"people who do not live up to the average in society"

"people who have a need for support"

"people who cannot earn their daily bread".

The view that the disabled are "people who need help" is often mentioned by those Danes with no or little advanced education. In contrast, those with more schooling tend to view the disabled as "abnormal" or "deviant". Others - especially the youth - refer to various forms of essence, i.e., specific permanent physical and/or behavioural characteristics of the individual, such as:

“people with physical or mental shortcomings”

“people with inherited or acquired defects”.

Most adult Danes, however, understand being disabled as social "works of construction", i.e. that being disabled is ultimately viewed as created by the concrete social and societal context of which the disabled are a part.

General attitudes

As concerns adult Danes' attitudes to the disabled in general, the majority of Danes - especially women - are relatively or especially critical toward the conditions offered to the disabled. Those from the Copenhagen area are more critical than others, as are those respondents in our sample who are themselves disabled. It is difficult to know what the respondents are thinking of when they make statements about the condition of the disabled person in general. As noted, however, strongly critical general attitudes are not necessarily synonymous with a corresponding set of specific attitudes.

When disabled people interact with non-disabled in various social contexts, the disabled can be said to be socially integrated. Most Danes are positive, and very few are neutral or overtly negative toward social interactions with disabled persons. In this area as well, women reveal themselves to have more positive attitudes than men. Age also plays a role, with people who have passed their youth years tending to be most positively disposed toward the disabled. It plays no great role where one lives in Denmark when it concerns difference in general attitudes toward the social integration of the disabled. Surprisingly, attitudes toward the social integration of the disabled are not affected by whether or not the respondent is disabled.

Social integration and equality of opportunity are functionally related. If there is to be equality of opportunity between the disabled and other people, the disabled should not only be included in social collectivities, but also be accorded the same rights and possibilities as others. A significant majority of our respondents - especially the women - hold the view that equality of opportunity for the disabled is partially or very much lacking.

The disabled respondents also tend to be more critical than others when it concerns equal opportunity for the disabled person. Educational background also plays a role for how one views equal opportunity for the disabled person. Many people with higher educations have no reservations about the current situation of equal opportunity - or lack of it - for disabled. Adults with shorter or mid-level educations (social workers, nurses, school teachers), belong to the most critical group.

If the disabled are to have the same possibilities as others, they must not be subjected to discrimination. Virtually all adult Danes are against discrimination against the disabled. As with most of the other general attitudes, female respondents strongly reject discrimination of the disabled. Among the male respondents, the youth are less critical than others toward discrimination of the disabled. Not surprisingly, the most vocal critics of discrimination are found among the disabled respondents.

The Danish population is thus predominantly positively disposed toward social equality for the disabled. However, if one cuts across the attitudes, the tendency is not entirely the same. The positive general attitudes are not quite as widespread when several general attitude areas are included at the same time. For example, only every third adult believes that the condition of the disabled in general and equal opportunity for the disabled person can improve, while also being positive toward the social integration for the disabled.

Women are more critical than men regarding the general situation of the disabled, their social integration and possibilities to achieve equal opportunity. We thus obtain different results when comparing attitudes toward specific issues with the cross-cutting attitudes.

Public sector efforts

There is a widespread dissatisfaction with the efforts made by Danish politicians toward the disabled. Virtually no respondents believe that the politicians "do too much" for the disabled, while the vast majority - especially the women - believe that politicians do “too little” or “much too little”. Respondent who have passed their youth are most dissatisfied, as are the disabled respondents themselves. Those respondents with higher educations are the least dissatisfied group when different levels of education are compared. Finally, respondents from Copenhagen are the most dissatisfied with the efforts made by politicians.

Virtually no one among the Danish adult population desires to reduce the expenditures of the state or municipality for the disabled, and about half the respondents cite the need for increased expenditures. It is especially female respondents who cite the need for further expenditures. The youth are least disposed towards spending more funds. Disabled respondents are no more willing than others to increase expenditures for the disabled.

Is the population just as critical when it concerns general attitudes to public care and service toward the disabled, e.g., home care and practical aids? As not everyone has had experience with this kind of care, a considerable minority do not express general opinions on this issue. Among those respondents who have definite opinions, however, the critics are in the majority. However, a small minority point toward various possible alternatives to public care and service, e.g., increased help from family and friends. Especially women, followed by older men, express dissatisfaction with the level of publicly funded care of the disabled. Not surprisingly, the disabled themselves are more critical than others.

The study also investigated how Danes view the efforts to increase accessibility and movement for the disabled in, for example, public offices, libraries, shops and cinemas. Generally speaking, the Danish population believes that there are clear shortcomings in the degree of physical accessibility offered to disabled citizens. This is especially true among female respondents and older men. On the accessibility issue, the disabled are no more dissatisfied than others.

The tendencies thus point to the population being very or decidedly dissatisfied with the public effort to improve the lot of the disabled. However, if one examines cross-cutting attitudes, the tendency changes in a less critical direction. For example, only every fourth adult simultaneously finds that "politicians do too little", that "too little few funds are used on the disabled", and that "public sector care of the disabled is unsatisfactory". On the other hand, very few respondents have cross-cutting non-critical attitudes toward the public effort to improve conditions for the disabled.

Women are more often than men to be generally dissatisfied with the public sector efforts to improve conditions for the disabled. Measured by age, the cross-cutting critical general attitudes are found especially among middle-aged and older people, while younger men comprise the least dissatisfied group. Those from Copenhagen further distinguish themselves by being the most generally dissatisfied.

The disabled at the workplace

The findings of the study shows that over half the Danish adult population believe that the work possibilities for disabled people are inadequate. The youth - especially those pursuing higher education - are to a lesser extent proponents of this view. It is especially the functionaries, early retirees and pensioners who desire a more prominent place for the disabled at the workplace.

Cutting across population groups, there is predominant agreement that Danish firms should hire the disabled, even though it may exclude others from obtaining jobs. Agreement applies across categories of age, whether informants are disabled or non-disabled, and across educational background, main occupation and geographic location. On this issue as well, the women have more positive attitudes than men.

There are also predominantly critical voices regarding private employers who have to think more about their own firm than pay attention to the disabled when they hire new employees. People without schooling or with short- or medium-term educations tend to be more dissatisfied with this kind of employer's thinking than those with professional educations. On the other hand, independent businessmen and private functionaries are less critical than others within this area.

Taken separately, the responses to the questions about disabled persons in the workplace show that the Danes have predominantly positive general attitudes on this issue. If Danish politicians want to enhance work possibilities for disabled individuals, they have the majority of the population behind them. It should be remarked, however, that the disabled have roughly the same views on these questions as the public in general.

Summary of general attitudes

Whether adults in general can be said to have positive general attitudes toward the disabled person depends on whether one looks at one attitude at a time or at the cross-cutting attitudes. If one examines one attitudinal area at a time, it can be concluded that Danes desire improved conditions for the disabled, and at the general level, the vast majority of Danes are positively disposed toward the disabled. Around every second respondent, for example, believes that more funds should be allocated to improve the situation of the disabled. Nevertheless, the study also shows that only few respondents have positive attitudes toward the disabled person within all the above-mentioned general attitudinal areas.

Positive general attitudes about the disabled are not equally widespread among the various population groups. Gender can account for the differences between the general attitudes to a greater degree than can education and geographic location. Within largely all the general attitude areas, women hold more positive views about the disabled than do men.


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