Our friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have. This is the same for people young and old. We are all social beings and require one another.
However, many people with disabilities are facing major challenges in making and sustaining friendships. A new survey of more than 1000 people with disabilities we commissioned highlighted the extent of the problem.
- Nearly one in four people with disabilities (23%) 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 feel they face greater barriers than non-disabled people in making and sustaining friendships.
- Almost one in four (23%) adults with disabilities 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.
- Six percent of disabled people do not have one single friend.
These are worrying findings and Sense has just launched a new campaign "We all need friends" to look at overcoming the barriers faced by people with disabilities in making and sustaining friendships. We're calling for a national debate around friendship and disability and will also explore what opportunities there are for disabled people to meet people, profile good practice and look to raise public awareness.
For people who are deafblind, the barriers can be significant. Take Hayley Reed, who campaigns and supports several charities, including Sense. She has both sight and hearing impairments and has also been a wheelchair user for 24 years.
She says: "As a younger person friendship is a really important issue for me. If you go to social events, you are left out a little bit because people don't fully understand how to communicate with you or they think they have to shout at you.
"The support network is really important. That's where a lot of people get let down with a dual sensory impairment as there's often no-one in their community with the same disability. They are very much isolated."
It is clear from both the large scale survey we carried out and the personal accounts of people like Hayley that there's quite a big problem here. And a lot of it is down to a lack of opportunity for people with disabilities to meet other people.
This is a year long campaign exploring the issue but already we can call for a range of solutions. This includes calling for local authorities to commission more services to support friendships, care providers should place greater priority on supporting people to maximise their opportunities and greater public education to help inform the general public about disability and the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
Over the next year, we want to bring together experiences, learning, good practice and insights that puts friendship right at the heart of support for disabled people. We welcome any views, ideas or good practice in this area.
For more information, visit www.sense.org.uk/friends