22/09/2014 06:35 BST | Updated 19/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Disabled People More Likely to Be Seen on the Streets Than on Our Screens

When was the last time you saw a disabled person on TV? Our research shows more than half of us are more likely to see a disabled person on the street rather than on our screens. And one in six of us have no recollection of disabled people in any media at all.

A series of essays by the think-tank Demos in partnership with the leading charity umbrella group VODG gives us a worrying insight into the current realities for many disabled people. It reveals the hidden financial, employment and other challenges disabled people still face away from the public gaze.

Discrimination on the grounds of race, sexuality and religion is widely seen as unacceptable. As a country we accept and celebrate difference now thanks to the leadership of pioneers who fought for better equality. Everyday sexism is often challenged but we hear little about disability.

Several television companies have made commitments to include more ethnic minority actors to reflect Britain's diverse population. The BBC has pledged to quadruple the number of disabled people it puts on TV by 2017 and Channel 4 has led the way in terms of disability programming in recent years, beginning with its coverage of the Paralympics at the London 2012 Games and ground-breaking programmes like The Undateables and I'm Spazticus.

This is welcome progress but we still have a long way to go before we become a country that delights in its difference.

More than 11million disabled people live in the UK and with welcome improvements in healthcare we are all living longer and both the number and proportion of disabled people in the UK will increase.

And yet everywhere we look, disabled people are missing. Still under-represented on our TV screens and newspapers. Still under-represented at work. Still under-represented on inaccessible public transport and in cinemas and theatres everywhere. Although people with learning disabilities are certainly not under-represented in a criminal justice system that struggles with equality.

Widespread revulsion following failings in care at Winterbourne View shows much still needs to be done to support people with complex needs. And there is no reason why this should not be done in partnership with the people receiving the services.

First, the 2012 Paralympics Games and now the Invictus Games have brought us a new-found optimism on how disabled people are valued but action needs to follow.

All of us need to do something to achieve the future we want because there is no equality for anyone without equality for everyone.

Governments can do more to support disabled to get jobs and fund better care and benefits to match the increased costs disabled people face in their daily lives.

Businesses of all sizes can and should do more to open up to disabled employees and consumers. And as an individual we each have an important part to play. None of us should stay silent if we see or hear unacceptable behaviour or conversations.

By harnessing the Paralympics spirit, we should bring about change and do things differently. Aspirations of disabled people should be central to public debate in the run-up to next year's general election and we should not just nod and agree - but act to make it so.