1 In 10 Adults Have Used Abusive Language Towards A Disabled Person

Results of a new survey, released today by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, hosted by leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau, suggest that adults are perpetuating and normalising bullying behaviour by using discriminatory language in their everyday conversations, with some directing abusive words at disabled people or those with special educational needs (SEN).

The findings, launched today to mark the start of Anti-Bullying Week, show that  four in ten (44%) adults use the words ‘spaz’, ‘spastic’, ‘retard’ or ‘mong’ in ‘casual’ conversation; half of whom justify doing so as part of ‘banter’.  In addition, 65% hear others using these words in conversation, with over a third (37%) witnessing them being used online.

When it came to using the words directly towards another person; almost a third (30%) admitted to doing so; with 1 in 5 saying they had done so just as ‘banter’ and 1 in 10 to be deliberately insulting.

Further findings suggest that children have also adopted this cursory use of bullying language; 70% of teachers polled hear their pupils using the words ‘spaz’, ‘spastic’, ‘retard’ or ‘mong’ at school. When it came to how children used this language; half of those teachers overheard pupils using it in ‘casual’ conversation, with the same number employing the words to insult their peers.

The survey also showed that more than 1 in 10 adults have directed these words at a disabled person/person with SEN, with half of those doing so to be insulting; findings which were echoed amongst the younger generation:

  • more than half of teachers (55%) hear children directing discriminatory language at a disabled child/child with SEN, with just under half of these instances directed as insults

Despite the prolific conversational use of these words; over half of adults (53%) said that it was always offensive to use these words. However, nearly a third (30%) said that they don’t consider these words to be offensive if used in’ banter’.

Most adults are ignorant of the meaning of offensive bullying language

When asked if they knew what these words meant and where they originated:

  • over half of adults surveyed didn’t know the history of the word ‘mong’
  • over a third didn’t know where the word ‘spastic’ came from
  • with a quarter unaware of the origins of the word ‘retard’.

After reading the origins of the words, with an explanation that they are offensive to disabled people/ people with SEN, over a quarter (28%) said they would still continue to use the words.

Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson said:

 “This is completely unacceptable. No child should ever say or hear these words whether used in conversation or as an insult.”

“Schools have a responsibility to ensure that children can learn in an environment free from prejudice.”

“To help tackle this we have given more power to heads to punish bad behaviour and there’s also now a greater focus on behaviour and bullying in school inspections.”

National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, Lauren Seager-Smith, said:

“1 in 5 children of school age have a special educational need, those who existing evidence shows us are significantly more likely to suffer bullying. Our findings show that children are using these bullying words in general conversation, and worse still, to deliberately insult each other and their disabled peers or those with special educational needs.”

“As adults we need to ask ourselves what our role is in this, when it became acceptable to use these and other discriminatory words as part of ‘banter’ and why we feel disabled people and those with special educational needs are fair game. 

“Existing evidence demonstrates just how pervasive the bullying of disabled children and those with special education needs is, yet as a society we are using discriminatory and hurtful language that is perpetuating the bullying of these vulnerable children in our schools. We must challenge the normalisation of this language and recognise the impact it is having on the attitudes of generations to come.”

Children with special educational needs and disabled children are more likely to be bullied

  • Primary school pupils with special educational needs are twice as likely as other children to suffer from persistent bullying1
  • 83% of young people with learning difficulties have suffered bullying 2
  • over 90% of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome have reported the bullying of their child in the previous year.3





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