“We must show compassion and support for all those who cannot work. Particularly the disabled men and women of our country.”

These words, spoken just three days ago by Ed Milliband during his speech to the Labour Party conference, were celebrated by many disability activists – including Sue Marsh in this blog – as a sign that disabled people “have travelled a long, long way this year.”

It is absolutely true that 2012 has seen some great positive steps forward for disabled people and their profile in the public eye. The most obvious was of course the success of the Paralympic games, which saw disabled athletes like Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds become national heroes, in front of a record-breaking 2.7 million live audience who bought tickets to the games. It was brilliantly supported by a Channel 4 advertising campaign (see picture above) which focused on the athlete's abilities, not disabilities. Other great victories have included the groundswell of public support for the Spartacus Report, which was produced by disabled people to highlight the potential negative impact of welfare reforms and which led to major changes to the laws in the House of Lords.

However, we know we can’t be complacent. The Paralympics has greatly increased awareness of what disabled people are achieving, but this isn’t enough to reverse decades of near invisibility. And while the welfare reforms may have been amended as a result of passionate campaigning, many disabled people remain acutely concerned about their financial future when the current welfare system embarks on a series of radical changes next year.

Perhaps most importantly of all, we are yet to see if all of these activities will create a lasting change in the way disabled people are perceived by the public. Because there is no doubt that too many people do still harbour negative attitudes towards disabled people, particularly when it comes to benefits. This was confirmed by the release in September of the “British Social Attitudes Survey”, a report published every year by NatCen Social Research which provides an invaluable and authoritative barometer of how the British public feels about a wide range of issues.

We will be exploring the findings in detail in follow up blogs over the next two weeks. However, one statistic that struck us as being important was that although more people than in previous years favoured increased spending on public services, the number who supported improved benefits for disabled people dropped sharply from 63% to 53%.

Perhaps this is unsurprising after several years where certain parts of the media have heavily focused on exposing a tiny, tiny minority of disability benefit recipients who are “faking it” rather than featuring the vast majority who are honest and who need benefits to survive. But, whatever the reason, there is little doubt that this is one battle that is currently being lost. It is crucial that everyone working in the disability sector does more to explain the reality to the public so that all disabled people are given a fair deal in the future, and the chance to succeed in the way the Paralympians showed they can.

Jaime Gill, head of press and public affairs