The study also found that one in four people have tried to avoid conversations with disabled people. Even more alarmingly, this figure doubled when the question was asked to people under the age of 24.
Reasons for avoiding conversation were said to be “fear of causing offence”, “not knowing what to talk about” and “feeling uncomfortable”.
“I just want to be treated as a normal person”, says 23-year-old Molly Watt, who was diagnosed with the usher syndrome (hearing loss and eye disorder) at the age of 12. Molly believes that some people don’t know how to cope when friends are diagnosed with a disability and drift away as a result. Molly says that when facing a disability, “You learn who your true friends are.”
In response to this survey Richard Kramer, deputy CEO of Sense said, “Out-dated attitudes towards disability are still preventing people from striking up conversations.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Many disabled people report feeling more included and powerful when they reach adulthood.
Ellen Watson, 21, who was diagnosed with usher syndrome when she was 16, has seen this process of isolation reverse. “I had access to excellent support – and my friends were waiting for me,” she says.
What I think
Even though it may be wrong, I can understand why some people tend to avoid disabled people, clearly due to the stigma surrounding them. Far more work needs to be done, especially in education, to remove this stigma, by encouraging inclusiveness and openness in the classroom and outside of it.
Also, because we constantly worry about the physical health of disabled people, we may neglect to think about their mental health. More should be done to improve mental health support for the disabled and integrated groups and clubs should be put in place, allowing them to socialise more easily.
Talking to young people working at Exposure who are disabled, I saw that their experiences were quite similar to those in the survey. Often they feel like people do avoid talking to them, although they still have good friends to provide support, meaning that they don’t feel very lonely.
We should make sure all disabled people get that support.
What do you think? Please comment below.