Public Attitudes towards People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Qualitative Comparison of White British & South Asian People

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National and international polices promote the acceptance, integration and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities into mainstream society. However, there is little systematic research into general population attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities, and even less research, which considers the impact of culture on attitudes. The aim of this study was to explore how young people from White British and South Asian backgrounds differ in their attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities and above all, how they arrive at their beliefs.

Materials and Method

A qualitative design utilizing focus groups and individual interviews with White British and South Asian adolescents aged 16–19 years (N = 61) was employed. Questionnaire data were collected to compare this sample to findings from a larger study run concurrently (Attitudes to people with intellectual disabilities: a cross cultural study. Thesis, University College London). Interview and focus group data were analysed using thematic analysis.


Thematic analysis yielded five themes and pointed to widespread confusion about the concept of ‘intellectual disability’, not helped by the continuing invisibility of people with intellectual disabilities in the media. Participants expressed many positive beliefs, yet closer analysis revealed that underlying these may be more ambivalent or even hostile attitudes. Key differences between the two cultural groups are discussed.


The findings highlight the need for raising public awareness and the importance of culturally sensitive support.

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