I have noticed a few social media posts from disabled people along the lines of ‘What are non-disabled people complaining about? Isolation is something I put up with all the time”. There is little doubt that many of us become isolated as a result of our impairments, or more accurately, because of society’s inability or unwillingness to let us participate.
The most recent data on loneliness from the Office for National Statistics confirms this view. The proportion of disabled people who report feeling lonely often or always was almost 4 times that of non-disabled people. In the year ending March 2018, 13.3% of disabled people reported feeling lonely often or always, compared to 3.4% of non-disabled people. I found this sad, but not entirely surprising. However, I was surprised to read in the same report that it was the younger adult age group, those aged 16-24, who feel the most lonely. Almost a third of disabled 16-24 year-olds report feeling lonely often or always, compared to just 4.7% of their non-disabled counterparts.
Perhaps this reflects the pressures that we all feel as we transition to adulthood, lose touch with our school friends and have to form new friendships and networks. Doing this with a disability can be hugely difficult and its so easy to find yourself on the fringes, looking in as your non-disabled colleagues breeze through it.
Personally, living with sight loss, I used to find networking meetings especially difficult. The inability to catch someone’s eye or spot someone ready to engage, and the fear of trying to spark up a conversation with a coat stand, always made it fraught with anxiety and often resulted in me taking the lower-risk option of keeping to myself, not a very productive strategy for a networking event.
Given the current restrictions, there’ll be no networking events coming up but after 6 months of unemployment and now starting a new job which is home based, I think I will be able to cope ok with a few more months of self-isolation. My guide dog is not so sure though.