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MS Society Attitudes and experiences of MS

Public opinion poll and poll of people who have MS, on behalf of the MS Society.

Date Published: 29 Apr 2012

Categories: Health | Public and communities | Social | UK


MS Society report reveals alarming stigmas and attitudes towards disabled people

Too many people are ignorant and narrow-minded when it comes to considering the lifestyle people with disabilities, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), can lead.

These are the findings published in a new report, Fighting Back – ordinary people battling the everyday effects of MS, launched today by the MS Society to mark MS Week (30 April – 6 May). 

Fighting Back highlights the impact MS has on people’s emotions and relationships, social life and work life. And it reveals the full extent of alarming stigmas and negative attitudes that exist towards disabled people.

A ComRes poll, commissioned for the report, of more than 2,000 British adults shows one in five (21%) people think disabled people need to accept they cannot have the same opportunities in life as non-disabled people and one in four (24%) believe that people who claim to be disabled often exaggerate the extent of their physical limitations.

A separate poll of over 1,400 people with MS reveals as many as 42% of people with MS feel that, as a result of their condition, people often don’t consider them as equal, while almost one in three (30%) even say they have been visibly ignored because of their condition.

It’s likely that such shocking statements are largely due to the lack of public understanding about disability, and MS in particular. The research shows 71% of British adults admit they don’t feel they know enough about MS – and even among people who know someone with MS, understanding of the condition is still poor. Over half (53%) of people with MS surveyed say their symptoms have been mistaken for drunkenness, while three quarters (76%) have experienced someone questioning the fact they have MS because they ‘looked well’.

Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system and is usually diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s.  Symptoms can attack at random, resulting in problems with mobility and balance, eyesight, memory and thinking, bladder control and extreme fatigue. Around twice as many women as men have the condition.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the MS Society, said: “Because it’s poorly understood, living with MS can turn a simple shopping trip or social event into an ordeal – where strange looks and hurtful remarks can all be part of daily life.

“Yet people with MS have the same aspirations as anyone else. Most want loving relationships, an active social life and a successful career – and they can have this, given the right support and understanding. Of course MS presents many challenges, but society can place further unnecessary barriers in the way of people with MS, making it harder than it needs to be to live a full life.”

With such stigma and misunderstanding it’s no surprise that people with MS find it hard to talk about their condition with others: almost one in three people with MS surveyed (30%) say they often avoid telling people they have the condition. This extends to the workplace too, with 42% of people admitting to being concerned about telling their employer they have MS in the current economic climate.

More positively, many people with MS (41%) have found the condition has had a positive impact on relationships with their immediate family, almost half (49%) say it has led them to take up new hobbies and interests, and over a third (37%) of employed people with MS feel their condition does not impact on their work
Cat Johnson, 25, a student from Edinburgh who has MS, said: “Like most people my age, I want a social life. I want to get dressed up and go out for drinks with my friends and my MS hasn’t stopped me from doing that, but I know what my limits are. I can’t wear heels or dance all night, and getting drunk with MS isn’t helpful, but my friends don’t mind and have been really supportive. MS might restrict me, but I won’t let it define me; life is too short.”
The MS Society has launched an appeal this MS Week in a bid to raise £500,000 to fund better treatments and support for people with MS, to help them fight back against the condition. People are urged to join the Fightback by donating at

ComRes interviewed 2,056 GB adults online between 23rd and 25th March 2012.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. All respondents who said they had MS were screened out after the first question.

ComRes interviewed 1,419 people who have MS online between 28th March and 5th April 2012. They were contacted by an email send out to a random selection of the MS Society membership database, and via other online activity such as via the MS Society website and Twitter account.

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