Monday, 6 May 2013

Disabled? No comments from you!

The BBC ran a health story today reporting that 25% of adults walk less than an hour a week. This was based on a poll from the Ramblers Society conducted on a sample of 2000 adults.

They were running a "Have Your Say" comments on it and I idly posted wondering if they had taken disabled and elderly respondents into account who couldn't walk well in the first place.

My reason for asking is quite simple. Since becoming a wheelchair user and, more recently, mostly housebound, I have been very amused at how much I can skew polls, surveys and things such as character tests.

The most recent example was the "Great British Class Test" which tried telling me I wasn't cultured. As someone educated to PhD level who listens to classical music, is an avid reader and watches things like history documentaries and theatre, this was somewhat baffling. It eventually turned out to be because I never left the house. If you took into account things I WOULD do if I physically could (and in fact things I was doing until just a few years ago) the results were very different indeed. I tweeted about this and it was picked up and discussed in a BBC Ouch! article.

Going back to the "25% of adults walk less than an hour a week", if I had been phoned up for the survey and agreed to take part, I would imagine it would go something like this:
Are you over 18?
In any given week would you say you walked over 7 hours a week, 4-7 hours, 1-4 hours, or less than an hour?
Well, less than an hour, but...
That's great, thank you for your time
Yes but, that doesn't really count you see because...
Thank you.
I very much doubt there was a question like "Do you consider yourself disabled?", which in any case wouldn't help as it wouldn't necessarily affect walking. "Are you able to walk?" wouldn't be any better as some people are able to walk but only stupidly short distances. They understandably won't be walking for miles each week!

Given that there are 2.55 million blue badge holders in England alone (roughly 5% of the population), not taking mobility difficulties into account could make a difference to the results. Even people who aren't disabled enough to hold blue badges might still have significant difficulties.

Disabled and elderly people make up a significant proportion of the population. Yet when these polls and surveys are made we are blatantly often forgotten about. Questions are often irrelevant and there is no "not applicable" option. I often take the results with a pinch of salt as a result.

This isn't so much a problem when I'm taking a test for fun, but it *could* be an issue when survey results are used to decide government policy, issue health guidelines or perhaps make business decisions in private companies.

I was highly amused though to see that my comment was lambasted by other readers. It got a high number of negative votes.
I was less amused to see that another reader who agreed with my comment and explained that their pain and wheelchair use meant that they didn't walk also got negative votes. What kind of person does that?

So why was my comment disliked so much? I'm not really sure.
Was it precisely because people felt that as a disabled person who couldn't walk I WAS irrelevant and shouldn't be commenting?
Was it because people (probably wrongly in my experience) thought the poll creators would have thought of this?
Was it because people were having so much fun being holier than thou and telling everyone how much they walked and therefore how better they were than most of the population that they didn't want any comment that might cast doubt on it?

So two points.

  1. All you poll and survey creators out there: we disabled and elderly people do exist. Remember that, otherwise your results WILL be skewed.
  2. Disabled people are allowed to comment on topics concerning activities they can't partake in. Disability is a valid reason for not walking an hour a week. Marking down a comment saying so is a sad comment in itself on the BBC readership. 


  1. If the survey was conducted by phone (which I should imagine it was) on landlines, then the nature of the medium means that they were more likely to speak to people who are either unable to disinclined to walking. Whatever time of day, folks who walk a lot are more likely to be out - either because they are walking for pleasure, or because walking to and from work, shops etc.. means more time out of the house.

    I'm trying to think of the purest way of conducting such research, but asking the question about one's ability to walk and/ or get out of the house seems inevitable. It should have been asked and you're right in thinking it probably wasn't. I'm shocked at how often very well constructed research doesn't seem to take into account the anomalies disability throws up in the bare data of a life.

    I think the answer to your question is most likely the last. There are folk whose only virtuous behaviour involves looking after their own health. When you've got so little to feel good about, I guess you've got to make the most of it!

  2. I was once on a bus when a load of TfL staff doing surveys got on. One of the questions on the short form was "what type of ticket did you use for this journey?"

    The answers obviously included: Single ticket, daily Travelcard, weekly Travelcard, Freedom Pass, etc...

    "Wheelchair user, didn't need ticket" (wheelchair users travel free on London buses cos you pay/show ticket to the driver at the front, the wheelchair ramp is at the rear door) was not an option.

  3. Often when filling surveys there are often no options to show employment status as "unable to work due to ill health". I always have to select "housewife" or "unemployed" neither of which is true because my partner does all the housework!

  4. Spoonydoc: people don't like to be confronted with facts when the already had built up their bias.

    If you do not walk a hour a week, you do so because you are lazy. And the number is so high, because our society fosters lazy welfare fraudster. Period. End of discussion.

    If I wanted to be cynical I would say such surveys are made to prove biases, not to find out anything useful.

    I am autistic and I have awkward body movements. Walking isn't painful but unvcomfortable, so I avoid walking where possible. Instead I ride the bike a lot. To do my grocery shopping, to the library, to my favorite writing places and just recreational. The tripps to the library alone are 5km one way and half a hour cycling. But I hardly walk one hour a week, ever. So according to this survey, I'm a totally lazy slob, too.