90% of people think they’re helping society by challenging people who don’t ‘look disabled’, says study

Katie O'Malley
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90% of people think they’re helping society by challenging people who don’t ‘look disabled’, says study

Nine out of 10 people who challenge “healthy-looking” individuals for using accessible toilets in the UK think they’re helping society, according to a new study.

A survey on behalf of Crohn’s & Colitis UK charity found that 93 per cent of people think that by challenging a “healthy-looking person” for using the toilet, they are “standing up for the rights of disabled people” or because they believe it is “not fair” on the rest of society.

While the public’s intentions may be sincere, the charity claims it can lead to extreme “suffering and devastating consequences” for people with invisible disabilities.

The survey found that 12 per cent of the public admitted they would directly confront someone who didn’t show any visible signs of a disability if they were using a disabled toilet.

Men were found to be significantly more likely (15 per cent) to challenge an individual fitting such a description than women (eight per cent).

Meanwhile 19 per cent of men admitted they would say “no” if someone asked to jump the toilet, in comparison to 14 per cent of the opposite sex.

Modern disabled toilet sign (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are two of the main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and are lifelong diseases of the gut, according to Crohn’s & Colitis UK.

Crohn’s is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the digestive system, leaving sufferers with myriad symptoms that can severely inhibit their daily lives if not treated with the right medications.

Colitis is similar in terms of symptoms and treatment, but one key difference is that it only affects the large intestine, whereas Crohn's can affect any part of the digestive tract.

According to the charity, there are at least 300,000 Britons diagnosed with an IBD and while symptoms are treatable, there are currently no known cures.

In a related survey of 1,771 people living with Crohn’s or Colitis, 61 per cent of sufferers had experienced verbal and/or physical abuse for simply using the toilet facilities they needed, and nearly two thirds (65 per cent) had been refused after asking jump the toilet queue in an emergency.

In addition, 70 per cent of sufferers said they have experienced an accident or “unpleasant” health issues because a member of the public wouldn’t let them jump the queue.

Almost half said they had felt prevented from going to restaurants (49 per cent) and pubs (43 per cent) due to a fear of discrimination.

Furthermore, eight in 10 people (81 per cent) thought the public have little understanding of the conditions' symptoms and are quick to judge those living with them.

Sarah Sleet, CEO at Crohn’s & Colitis UK says: “We know that if the public better understand the devastating symptoms of these conditions, they will be more considerate and supportive of people who feel too ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their Crohn’s or Colitis.”

The charity's award-winning campaign "Not Every Disability is Visible" aims to change sings on accessible toilet doors to help people with invisible conditions feel more confident using them and stop the stigma surrounding the health issues.

Nearly 2,500 supermarkets, 150 retail areas and 15 major travel hubs in the UK have installed the signs to date, with 80 per cent of people living with Crohn’s or Colitis saying they felt more at ease visiting places where the signs are in use.

Reflecting on the findings, Ceri Smith, policy manager at disability equality charity, Scope says: “Disabled people shouldn’t face questioning or outright abuse for using these facilities, and it’s important we all bear in mind that not all impairments and conditions are visible.

“Improving access to accessible toilets and increasing awareness with the public would be positive steps towards a genuinely inclusive society for disabled people.”

The survey comes days after research by charity Parkinson’s UK found that nine out of 10 people with the condition say they have been harassed or discriminated against.

Meanwhile, one in five (22 per cent) said slurred speech or balance issues have led to accusations that they must be drunk, with some being sworn at or labelled a drug addict.