Disability hate crime is — as the phrase suggests — a crime, whether the disability is physical or mental. It is just as serious as racially motivated crime or attacks prompted by homophobia or religious hatred. But few people — public, employers, police — know this part of the legislation exists. Yet the degree of success police and prosecutors have had tackling race, religious and gay crime is proof that attitudes can change.
The unkindness starts young. It's a default position. But when I see my son at his primary school learning sign language to communicate with children who attend the deaf unit there, it makes me believe that kindness and tolerance can be learnt too. There should perhaps be less emphasis on rights and laws, and more on looking out for the less fortunate. Schools are the obvious place to promote this new compassion.
We need of course to use the perfectly good legislation that already exists but, more than anything, we need to believe in the spirit of the law and apply it in our dealings with the learning disabled. The first step is to talk about it. Otherwise, we risk shoving them into another, very modern kind of institution — that secret place away from the media gaze.