23% of people with disabilities would describe themselves as lonely on a given day, and 53% report feeling lonely more generally. When it comes to young disabled people, however, the proportion reporting loneliness rises to an even more unacceptable 77%.
These statistics come from the Someone Cares if I’m not There report, which was released last month by the Jo Cox Commission in partnership with sensory impairment charity Sense and 21 other voluntary organisations that work with people who have disabilities.
Someone Cares if I’m not There seeks to uncover why it is that loneliness affects such a high proportion of disabled people, and presents testimony from disabled people about their day-to-day experiences of it. The report calls on the charity sector, central government, local government, and wider society to recognise the impact of loneliness on disabled people and to take the steps necessary to defeat it.
Whilst the report stresses that the causes of loneliness for disabled people are many, complex and unique, a common theme throughout is that a lack of understanding about disabilities leads people to avoid those with them, and consequently makes it harder for disabled people to make and maintain lasting friendships. One of the most staggering findings of the report is that almost half of all people without a disability don’t believe they have anything in common with those who do.
A recommendation put forward is therefore that we as a society should work towards increasing awareness of disabilities and thus towards breaking down the uncomfortable stigma that surrounds them. This way, we can prevent those with disabilities from becoming socially isolated.
The report also suggests that there is more than could be done to break down the numerous practical barriers to social connections that disabled people face, such as inaccessible facilities, transport links and inappropriate social care. These barriers may often appear small, but can make the difference between an inclusive environment in which disabled people are able to meet, talk with and make friends, and one in which they are excluded.
Between the 10th of July and Friday the 11th of August, Sense led a unified campaign effort by the coalition of charities behind the report that shone the spotlight on loneliness and disabilities. The charities have used the Jo Cox Commission’s Happytochat slogan, (and corresponding hashtag #happytochat) in an attempt to educate the public about disabilities and to encourage people to talk with those who have them.
Sense has also used their campaign to encourage people to email their MP about the report and to ask them what they are willing to do in order to help overcome loneliness for disabled people in their area.
Our central London YMCA Club has for years sought to provide accessible social spaces and has an ethos that goes beyond just promoting health and fitness for all. The club currently runs an inclusive sports club every Sunday, works with local schools to put on yoga classes for those with special educational needs and disabilities, is currently running a week long cooking course for those with disabilities and has support groups for people recovering from heart problems and strokes.
In fact, across all Central YMCA operations, we have sought to put young disabled people at the heart of our agenda. YMCA Awards is for instance launching a new level 2 Award in Working with Participants with Disabilities in Sport and Active Leisure next month, whilst YMCA Training delivered apprenticeships to 144 learners with a disability or health problem in 2016-17.
We know that ending loneliness for disabled people is imperative and that we must continue to do more in the coming weeks, months and years ahead in order to overcome it. Central YMCA welcomes this challenge and will continue to provide an inclusive environment across all of our operations in which young disabled people can thrive.