An international study of public contact with people who have an intellectual disability

Roy McConkey, Paul F Slater, Lindsay Dubois, Amy Shellard, Ashlyn Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Background: People with intellectual disability (ID) are often socially isolated, and many experience stigma and discrimination. Increased contact with the general public is thought to overcome prejudices. This large-scale international study had three main aims: to determine the type and frequency of contact that the general public has with people with ID; to identify the personal characteristics of those who have greater contact; and to examine the public's level of comfort at the prospect of having contact with people with ID. Method: Self-completed online questionnaires were administered to nationally representative panels of respondents in 17 countries; totally 24 504 persons. Multivariate analyses were used to identify respondents more likely to have had frequent personal contact with persons with ID from those with infrequent or no contact and those respondents who were most comfortable at meeting a person with ID. Results: Internationally around one in four of the general population reports having frequent personal contact with people who have an ID although this varied from 7% in Japan to 46% in Panama. The principal forms of contact were through friendships, neighbours or extended family members. Over all countries, volunteering and engagement with Special Olympics were the two main predictors of frequent personal contact followed by employment in the education, health or social care field, being a parent of children under 18 years, playing sports and being employed. People who reported frequent personal contact were also more comfortable at meeting a person with ID. Conclusions: This international dataset provides a baseline against which public contact can be compared across countries and changes monitored over time. The findings suggest ways in which greater contact can be promoted and making the public more comfortable at meeting people with ID.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-282
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the ESPN (the Global Presenting Sponsor of Unified Sports), the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and the United States Office of Special Education Programs.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research published by MENCAP and International Association of the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disibilities and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • International
  • Special Olympics
  • Intellectual Disability
  • General Public
  • Personal contact
  • general public
  • international
  • personal contact
  • intellectual disability
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Social Support
  • Intellectual Disability/epidemiology
  • Adolescent
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Social Stigma
  • Child


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