It is a sad reflection of the times that we are living in when we read that the most vulnerable in society, such as those with disabilities, are being subject to increasing levels of assault and verbal abuse (“Hate crime against disabled increases by 40 per cent in a year”, The Times, 13th July 2016).*

As an organisation that supports over 2,000 people with disabilities, we are only too aware of the harassment that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis. Stories of people avoiding using public transport at certain times or not feeling safe going out alone are common.

Living with a disability can be incredibly challenging and yet the issues that people face are compounded by a clear lack of public understanding about what having a disability means.  Without personally knowing someone with a disability, it is perhaps difficult to show empathy and, as the figures from the CPS show, this breeds contempt in the end.

The media has a key role to play in changing perceptions. Recently, both Channel 4 and the BBC have included several well-informed documentaries in their scheduling that show the reality of disability and the positive contribution that people with disabilities can make to society. Sadly, however, this sort of positive broadcast has to compete, too often, with stories about welfare cuts, with people with disabilities being painted as scroungers, who create a drain on the public purse.

To bring about change, people with disabilities need to be seen, and understood. For that to happen, disabled people need to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. We would argue that the workplace is a good place to start. Many people with disabilities want to work, but simply are not being offered the opportunity, with only 50% of disabled people in paid work, and less than 10% of people with learning disabilities and 15% with autism. Figures that have remained static for over two decades and which successive Governments have failed to tackle.

If the person serving you in a shop or sitting at the desk next to you had a disability, then the public view on disability would begin to look very different.

Tim Cooper, chief executive.

*This article may only be accessible online to subscribers of The Times