Many disabled people face being cut off from society and having to overcome major barriers to make and sustain friendships, a new report from national disability charity Sense warns today (9 March).
Research commissioned by Sense shows that nearly 1 in 4 disabled people (23 percent) feel lonely on a typical day, rising to well over a third (38%) for young disabled people aged 18-34. More than three-quarters (77%) of young disabled adults also feel they face greater barriers than non-disabled people in making and sustaining friendships.
Almost one in four (23%) adults with disabilities also said that the Government’s recent changes to welfare benefits and eligibility for social care have made it harder for them to make and sustain friendships.
Sense, which supports and campaigns for people who are deafblind, is today launching a new campaign “We all need friends” to highlight how opportunities for friendship remain elusive for too many people with disabilities. It will also explore the obstacles such as a shortage of appropriate services, transport, a lack of social groups and communication barriers and aims to open up a debate about what can be done to overcome them.
Other findings reveal:
- Six percent of respondents said they had no friends at all.
- 29 percent of respondents reported seeing their friends just once a month or less.
- More than four out of ten disabled people (41 percent) said that being able to get out and about more would enable them to see friends more often.
- One in five (22 percent) said more accessible transport would help them to meet up with friends more.
Hayley Reed, who lives in Rossendale in Lancashire, has had a hearing problem since the age of 10 and lost her sight 12 years ago. She has also been a wheelchair user for 24 years.
She says: “As a younger person friendship is a really important issue for me but it’s awfully hard to make friends. I see friends once a month which helps but sometimes you might have had a bad day and just want to talk to somebody. When you’ve got a disability, it’s just not that easy.
“I’ve got a physical disability as well as the sight and hearing loss but the sensory impairments take over from the physical as they’re very isolating. When you’ve got all three, it puts another barrier up.”
Sense Deputy Chief Executive Richard Kramer said:
“Friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have and are important for people’s health and well-being. While there has been extensive analysis around loneliness and older people as their circle of friends reduce over time, our work shows that many disabled people have very few opportunities to make friends in the first place.
“People with disabilities are deeply worried about the lack of opportunities and the barriers to friendship -whether it’s communication issues, a lack of transport or social groups to join. So far, there has been little analysis of the subject of friendship, particularly for young people and adults with disabilities.
“We want to start a national debate looking at the obstacles and what can be done to overcome them. Disabled people need to be visible, be allowed to play a full part in society and be given the same opportunities to make friends as everyone else.”
Sense is calling for a range of solutions to help improve the opportunities for disabled people to make friends including:
- Local authorities should commission more services that support the establishment and maintenance of friendships for people with disabilities. Traditional befriending services have been developed to tackle isolation and loneliness facing older people. Sense is calling for the development of ‘buddying schemes’ for individuals and social prescribing schemes for groups
- Providing increased opportunities to meet with other people – both disabled and non-disabled – with similar interests.
- Providers that are commissioned to support people with complex disabilities living in supported accommodation and care homes should be expected to demonstrate how they support people to maximise their opportunities for friendship and to be a visible part of their local community.
- Public education to help inform the general public about disability and the challenges faced by disabled people.
- Tourist venues, such as entertainment venues should provide better access for disabled visitors.
Sense has been helping people who are deafblind and with sensory impairments to enjoy more independent lives for the last 60 years. We support people of all ages, from children through to older people, with a wide range of sight and hearing difficulties and associated communication needs or additional learning disabilities. We provide tailored support, advice and information as well as specialist services individuals, their families, carers and the professionals who work with them.
We run services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and employ 2,000 people most of whom work in services directly with deafblind people. Our patron is HRH The Princess Royal. Further information can be found on Sense’s website – www.sense.org.uk