Shani is an events manager, disability campaigner and entrepreneur from Walsall. She features in Scope’s new What I Need To Say campaign which highlights the isolation that millions of disabled people face. In this blog, Shani shares her own experiences.
At certain times in our lives, we are all likely to experience loneliness. We often talk about loneliness in elderly people but, as Scope’s new research shows, loneliness affects so many disabled people.
This can be down to poor access to services, inaccessible transport and venues, and financial challenges. When you face so many extra costs related to disability, it can stop you from being able to go out and do things like everyone else. That’s why I launched the Diversability Card – a discount card for disabled people.
Social attitudes are also a significant barrier. Many struggle to see the person beyond the impairment or condition and act awkwardly. One in four people have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people because they worry about causing offence or don’t know what to say. This really astonished me. Personally, I feel sorry for the non-disabled UK population who are missing out on interacting with 13 million of us fabulous people!
With so many barriers to contend with, imagine being a disabled person, experiencing the same life transitions as everyone else, but not being able to participate in the same way. No wonder disabled people feel lonely.
My own experiences of loneliness
Being part of the ‘What I Need To Say campaign’ by Scope made me really reflect about the times I have experienced loneliness or isolation, which has drifted in and out of my life over different periods.
As a young child, I attended a special needs school which made keeping in touch with friends very difficult as we lived miles away from each other. It also meant that I was sent to a separate school that my siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours attended. Whilst it was the best place for me because of the care I needed for my condition, it was hard to maintain friendships and any sort of social life.
Over the course of my childhood, I spent a lot of time in hospital with broken legs due to my condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones). I would be in hospital for a minimum of three months at a time, missing school and home whilst only having adults to really talk to. I was very lucky that I always had lots of family coming to see me during the visiting time, but this is such a short amount of time in what used to seem very long days as a child.
I’ve also experienced loneliness as an adult, being excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition or people making assumptions about what I am able to do, or not. It’s really frustrating, especially as I’m a very independent person who will always find an alternative way of doing things.
I feel that increasing the awareness of different conditions and dispelling misconceptions about disability are major steps in combatting the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness and isolation.
Also, if you are a friend or family member of a person with an impairment or condition, take a moment to consider how they might be feeling, especially around this festive time of year. It can be as easy as making a quick phone call or popping in for a cup of tea to brighten someone’s day.
Too often disabled people struggle to access the right emotional support, advice and information. As a result they feel like no one truly understands, leaving them disconnected and isolated from those around them. This is particularly heart-breaking at Christmas.
Please help us this Christmas by getting involved with our What I Need To Say campaign. Share the message, tell us your stories, and donate to Scope so we can be there for people who have nowhere else to turn.