One in four Brits have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people, research has revealed.
MPs and disability charity Sense said damaging public attitudes are resulting in disproportionately high levels of loneliness among those who are ostracised.
They are campaigning for a shift in public perception, which they hope can be achieved by “increasing awareness of different conditions and battling misconceptions about disability”.
Disability charity Sense is a founding partner of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, chaired by Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, which aims to start a national conversation on the ‘silent epidemic’ of isolation across the UK.
Three-quarters (77%) of young disabled people and more than half of disabled people of all ages said they they experience loneliness, which isn’t helped by the fact one in four people avoid speaking to them.
Research from Sense revealed that fear of causing offence (30%), feeling uncomfortable (20%) and not knowing what to talk about (17%) were the most common reasons for avoiding conversations with disabled people.
Young adults under the age of 24 were revealed to be twice as likely (50%) to have avoided these conversations than older people. They were also least likely to meet disabled people, with a quarter (23%) of those surveyed unable to recall the last time they encountered someone with a disability.
Photographer Ian Treherne was born partially deaf and has limited vision as a result of Usher syndrome, a progressive condition which slowly causes his eyesight to deteriorate.
“I experience loneliness on a daily basis, as do many disabled people I speak to,” he wrote in a blog post on HuffPost UK.
“Public attitudes, accessibility and employment support are all areas that must be addressed if we are to address social isolation for disabled people.”
Rachel Reeves MP, co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, said: “Many of the barriers to building social connections for disabled people are practical ones, such as the need for accessible transport and buildings, financial support and appropriate social care; but public attitudes also play a part in the risk of loneliness for people with disability.
“Increasing awareness of different conditions and battling misconceptions about disability are both important steps to help reduce loneliness amongst disabled people.”
Seema Kennedy MP, co-chair of the commission, added: “Jo Cox strongly believed that ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us’. However, disabled people are often marginalised from friendship because of poor levels of public understanding.
“These misconceptions can sometimes cause people to assume that they won’t have much in common with someone who has a disability and in some cases can even prevent individuals from engaging in conversations with disabled people altogether.
“To help fight loneliness, it is vital that we all focus on our similarities rather than our differences. We can all create connections, find common interests and form friendships by taking the time to start a conversation.”
Sense deputy CEO, Richard Kramer, concluded: “Loneliness is disproportionally high amongst disabled people, many of whom say they feel lonely every single day.
“We all have things in common; however, outdated attitudes towards disability are still preventing people from striking up conversations and finding the shared interests that are often the key to friendship.
“Better understanding of disability and a shift in societal awareness are a key step in allowing disabled people to play a full part in society with the same opportunities to make connections as everybody else.”
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We’ll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
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