Public stigmatisation of people with intellectual disabilities: A mixed-method population survey into stereotypes and their relationship with familiarity and discrimination

H. A. Pelleboer-Gunnink*, J. van Weeghel, P. J. C. M. Embregts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
88 Downloads (Pure)


Stigmatisation can negatively affect opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to participate in society. Stereotyping, a first step in the process of stigmatisation, has been insufficiently explored for people with intellectual disabilities. This study examined the general public's set of stereotypes that is saliently attributed to people with intellectual disabilities as well as the relationship of these stereotypes with discriminatory intentions and familiarity.

Materials and methods:
A mixed-method cross-sectional survey within a representative sample of the Dutch population (n = 892) was used. Stereotypes were analysed with factor analysis of a trait-rating scale, and qualitative analysis of an open-ended question. The relationship between stereotypes and discrimination as well as familiarity with people with intellectual disabilities was explored through multivariate analyses.

Results and conclusions:
Four stereotype-factors appeared: "friendly", "in need of help", "unintelligent", and "nuisance". Stereotypes in the "nuisance" factor seemed unimportant due to their infrequent report in the open-ended question. "Friendly", "in need of help", "unintelligent" were found to be salient stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities due to their frequent report. The stereotypes did not relate to high levels of explicit discrimination. Yet due to the both positive and negative valence of the stereotypes, subtle forms of discrimination may be expected such as limited opportunities for choice and self-determination. This may affect opportunities for rehabilitation and might be challenged by protest-components within anti-stigma efforts.

Implications for rehabilitation:
There is currently sparse input for anti-stigma campaigns regarding people with intellectual disabilities. Anti-stigma interventions may benefit from adopting protest elements: education of the general public about inequalities that are experienced by people with intellectual disabilities. Especially support staff should be informed about the experienced and/or anticipated stigma of people with intellectual disabilities. As a way of opposing stigma, support staff should empower people for example by conducting strategies to disclose their (intellectual) disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities can challenge stigma by learning to tell a positive narrative on the lives they lead, using their strengths and coping with their limitations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-497
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Intellectual disabilities
  • discrimination
  • familiarity
  • social distance
  • stereotypes
  • stigma


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