social isolation in disabled people by Rob Akins, edited by Jenna Breunig

Social Isolation in Disabled People

What does social isolation mean? Many of us have felt lonely before. Most of us get through it. We find our way back to other people, and then the “dark time” becomes a foggy, faraway memory.

However, long-term loneliness is far more awful. It can happen to people misunderstood by society. Social isolation has become an epidemic in disabled people.

Many of us know that disabled people usually face physical problems. But loneliness is harder to see.

Non-disabled people might think that disabled people just prefer to stay home. However, most disabled people want to go out and join society too.

In fact, research finds that society’s treatment of disabled people breeds isolation. Disabled people become isolated not by choice, but due to a lack of options.

Bad experiences can also lead to isolation. Incidents of bullying, harassment, and microaggressions can hurt. Because of this, disabled people might hesitate to go out again.

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Why Social Isolation Matters

Social engagement is vital for both disabled and non-disabled people. When this need goes unmet, people may feel “less than human.”

Consequences include:

  • Higher risk of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression
  • Physical health problems
  • Lower life expectancy
  • Higher suicide risk

Nobody deserves to live this way. Our community needs to take action.

Besides, there are many bright, funny, and kind disabled people. When we ignore them, we miss out on meeting wonderful people.

Why Does Social Isolation Happen?

Here are a few factors that lead to isolation:

  • Lack of access
  • Social exclusion
  • Social comparison and self-identity

All of these make life harder for disabled people.

Lack of access

Disabled people may struggle to participate in daily life. Tools like special vehicles, power wheelchairs, and noise-canceling headphones can help.

But sometimes people need human assistance for everyday tasks like shopping or riding the bus. Asking for help over and over can feel embarrassing. If it feels too awkward, they may quit.

Social Exclusion

Some people assume that disabled people have close relationships with relatives or caretakers. However, not every disabled person is this lucky.

Unfortunately, too many people pity disabled people. They look down on them instead of pushing for fairness and inclusion.

Also, some people bully disabled people. They see them as “weird,” “dumb,” or “freakish.” So they harass and exclude them. This can happen to people with both physical and cognitive conditions.

Friends and family aren’t always friendly, either. Sometimes, they get frustrated with helping the disabled person. When society isn’t good enough, they might get tired of doing things to help. They might blame the disabled person instead of recognizing that ableism is at fault.

Social Comparison

It’s not always easy to be different. Being disabled in a non-disabled world can be isolating.

From a young age, kids compare themselves to others. When disabled people compare themselves to their non-disabled peers, they might feel like they come up short. They might not get to attend parties, meetings, and events the way others can.

The media doesn’t help either. It’s rare for disabled people to see people like them in the media. Sometimes these characters are villains or objects of pity. Other times, they end up cured or dead, which doesn’t exactly send a hopeful message.

The Result

Finally, these logistical and social barriers can become too much. Disabled people may choose to just stay home because it’s simpler.

Unfortunately, removing yourself from society only makes things worse. It’s easy for mental illness and low self-esteem to fester when you’re alone.

Finding a Place to Belong

These friendship lamps change color when one person touches them.

Disabled people need inclusion so they can find their place and purpose in society. Social groups can help fight isolation, especially if they last at least 6 months. Of course, they only work for those who can show up and participate.

Social media offers new opportunities. Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram can help people make friends from home. Hashtags like #ChronicIllness, #AskingAutistics, and #ADHDprobs can help disabled people find others like them.

Families and friends can also reach out. Even if they’re far away, they can make calls, video chat, and write letters. Some places also sell nifty gifts like digital picture frames and friendship lamps. These are another way to tell someone you’re thinking about them.

Fighting isolation isn’t easy. Society is still full of barriers, physical and attitude-related. We need to continue working on inclusion.

After all, if society excludes its most vulnerable people, what good is it?

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