Every so often, I read something that stops me in my tracks and makes me sit up, providing a sobering reminder of the daily challenges that face disabled people like me. The latest one of these moments was research from Sense which revealed that loneliness was highly reported by disabled people.
Perhaps even more shocking to me was the finding that over half of those surveyed thought they had nothing in common with disabled people. As someone whose hobbies include football, travel, music and eating chocolate (!) I scratched my head and wondered how on earth it was possible to have nothing in common with half of the people I encountered in my daily life. If this is true, what a damning reflection on us all.
We need to relearn how to be with each other. One of the best take aways from my counselling training this year is the Adlerian concept of social interest. Essentially this says that it is everyone’s responsibility to find ways which can help us gel together. Surely that shouldn’t be so hard? I was also really struck by the fact that between a third and a fifth of people surveyed essentially didn’t know how to talk to disabled people.
In my experience, the latter is quite simple: Essentially like anyone else. For me personally, though it will vary from person to person, I always also say that I’d rather people ‘ask and no, than not and wonder’ about my impairment. The rest is down to a bit of tact and common sense – treat me with the same respect you’d extend to other people and all will be fine. There really is nothing to be scared of.
I also think we need to rethink our approach to difference. Difference needs to be celebrated, rather than perceived as something which is awkward, threatening, or to be ‘othered’ in some way. Through appreciating the differences we all have at some level or another, we get to experience the richness that is living in a diverse society.
To close this blog, let me pose a challenge to you, dear reader. Try and engage with someone you don’t know. It might be as simple as smiling or saying hello, and its a start. Together we can tackle the issue of loneliness and change the world we live in, one conversation at a time.