Skip Content


Unconscious Bias against Disabled People is higher now than before the Paralympics

7 July 2014

A new study by the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) today suggests that levels of unconscious bias against disabled people are almost 8% higher today than before the Paralympic Games of 2012.

Despite Government figures suggesting that two-thirds of people believe attitudes towards disabled people have improved since the Paralympic games in 2012, the enei study found that the UK has not seen a reduction in unconscious bias against disabled people, and instead has seen it rise.

The enei study set out to find:

  • If unconscious attitudes towards people with disabilities has changed since the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
  • If the strength of unconscious bias against disabled people is stronger than for the characteristics of gender and race.

One of the key findings is that the positive role models shown in the 2012 Paralympic Games have failed to reduce unconscious bias levels against disabled people. In fact, the study shows that unconscious bias levels have risen by 8% since the 2012 Paralympic Games, from a pre-Paralympic rate 31.8% of test subjects showing unconscious bias that affected their behaviour to 39.5% post-Paralympics.

The research also shows disabled people to be the group that suffers from the highest amount of unconscious bias when compared with gender and ethnicity, with one in three of those taking part in the study showing at least a moderate level of unconscious bias against the visibly disabled.   

Dan Robertson, enei’s diversity & inclusion director said:

“The results of our study are very disturbing. Whilst we recognise that conscious attitudes towards disabled people have significantly shifted since the 2012 Paralympic Games, our research suggest that at the unconscious level, biases remain hard-wired.

Some of the key issues affecting disabled people in the workplace are the continuing myths and anxieties amongst employers and HR professionals. And whilst in the public domain we have witnessed a positive change in representation, within the workplace there remains a real lack of positive disabled role models”.


enei’s study has major implications for the way that employers recruit and retain disabled employees and adds to concerns over the current effectiveness of the government’s ‘two ticks Positive about Disability’ initiative.

enei’s key recommendations include: 

  1. Measure the levels of unconscious bias of recruiters and key decision makers to raise awareness of bias.
  2. Encourage recruiters to put forward more candidates with disabilities to break down stereotypes and build more role models.
  3. Review positive action programmes and the process for agreeing reasonable adjustments.
  4. Review the impact of disability initiatives such as ‘two ticks’ and the ‘Disability Confident Campaign’ to ensure they are producing long term and lasting effects on the experiences of disabled people
  5. Use positive disabled role models to show the positive effect disabled people can have at work. Focus on their achievements at work and not on their disability
  6. Encourage honest discussions about disability in the workplace. Train line managers about different types of disabilities and how to talk to someone about their disability, giving them the confidence to have effective communication with different types of people.

The study was sponsored by Nationwide Building Society, Citizens Advice, Kent County Council, Santander, Financial Ombudsman Service, Centrica and Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Services.

For further information please contact:

Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion

Dan Robertson T: 07946 466180  E:


enei’s Disability: A Research Study on Unconscious Bias involved an analysis of 9,448 Implicitly® test scores from a 40-month period across 2010-2011 and 2013-2014. This specifically excluded 2012, which was the period of the London Paralympics and the increased media coverage, both before and after the Games. As Implicitly® tests use visual images these results are applicable only to visible disabilities, however it should be noted that people with other forms of disability such as non-visible physical disabilities or learning disabilities are likely to experience bias once their disability is revealed.

Download the full report here

< Back