Social Isolation of the Disabled

Disability Researchers

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Social isolation and disability harassment leads to loneliness and affects people with disabilities more than abled persons. Many  disabled people lack social or emotional contact with friends or society. The absence of social contact has consequences such as negative self-esteem, low self-confidence, loneliness, and conflicts with families and friends. This paper seeks to point out the numerous implications of social isolation among people living with disabilities. Research has indicated that most disabled people do not choose to stay alone, but the society treats them differently, and they end up feeling lonely (Hernon et al., 2015). Abled persons also face social isolation out of choice or through circumstances such as retirement or bereavement. This paper utilizes cross-country statistics to evaluate the state of disabled people and the prevalence rate of isolation. The life expectancy of the disabled is lower since many do not lead a quality life; they are affected emotionally, psychologically, and socially. A significant percentage attempt suicide in the long run, when they can no longer bear the pain of isolation.

Social Isolation

Most people seek human relationships or companionship because of the value these contacts add to life itself. Life is more productive, especially with the social connection, though still, solitude brings essential blend to life (Grue, 2016). The need for companionship, engagements and solitude form the uniqueness and texture in community and in personal relationships and personalities. Social engagement is vital and useful to the life of a human being regardless of their health condition (Grootegoed & Tonkens, 2017). Isolation is the act of distancing people, either psychologically or physically from their network of needed or desired relationships with others. Therefore, social separation is the damage of a place inside one’s social collection. Loneliness has its negative and positive effects depending on two factors, the personality of an individual and whether the isolation is voluntary or involuntary. Separation is socially related to feelings of loss or marginality, loneliness, or apartness (Harasemiw et al., 2018). When initiated voluntarily, isolation is accompanied by positive feelings as it fulfills the desire of the individual seeking to break away from a network. However, involuntary isolation brings about negative feelings to the isolated persons who may end up feeling less human and lose self-esteem.


According to statistics, the United Kingdom (U.K) and the United States (U.S) account for more than 13 million and 50 million disabled persons respectively ("NSIP -Basic Facts: People with Disabilities", 2019). The personal circumstances and nature of the impairments vary across the disabled. For instance, in the case of the U.S, approximately 20 million people have a severe disability while 30 million have functional limitations ("NSIP -Basic Facts: People with Disabilities", 2019). Chronic loneliness is one of the problems that the disabled community face in common, and the degree of isolation increases with the severity of the disability. Research indicates that 23% of the total population of disabled people in the U.K. confirmed to feelings of loneliness, while 53% of those in the USA are lonely (Hernon et al., 2015). The causes of loneliness vary from one individual to another, but the consequences are similar. Some of the common disabilities include autism, mobility and physical impairment, cognitive and learning impairment, spinal cord disability, and psychological disorders. Individuals with different types of disabilities do not face similar challenges, but they all are subjected to social isolation. 


Depending on the severity of a disability or the willingness of a person, the limitation is an isolating experience. It is challenging to find non-disabled individuals who fully understand and empathize with the disabled since they all have unique experiences. The human rights commission of Australia ruled that disability can affect anyone at any stage of life, whether permanently or temporarily (Harasemiw et al., 2018). A person’s disability plays a huge role in one’s life, including oppressive attitudes, dwindling support, and lack of accessibility. Once people categorize one as disabled, opportunities for schooling, work, and socialization die out or reduce suddenly. Among adults of working age, only 29% of the disabled population in the U.S work part-time or full-time ("NSIP -Basic Facts: People with Disabilities", 2019). This is relatively low compared to non-disabled population where 79% of the working age work either part-time or full-time ("NSIP -Basic Facts: People with Disabilities", 2019). In the U.K, 46.5% of the working age disabled persons are in employment while the employment rate for the non-disabled persons is at 84% ("Key facts | Disabled Living Foundation", 2019). It is difficult to explain to a non-disabled person why one does not go out every weekend or engage in other activities since they will barely understand (Grue, 2016). Disabled people do not wish to be isolated, but at times it becomes hard for them when they believe they are a burden to others.


Disabled members of the society constantly battle isolation since the abled people find them more demanding than usual. Disabled people, especially those who have acquired their disability while of age, have shared about the social change that they experienced. In one instance, doctors diagnosed a grade four student with a brain tumor, and before the scheduled operation, the cancer had affected significant parts of his brain, leaving him disabled (Hernon et al., 2015). The student identified with social isolation shortly after, since all his friends  could no longer wait for him; they moved onto having new friendships. He was left all alone, inferiority set in; he was in constant pain, but felt the need to remain focused in life. He had to make changes, including his personality and find other activities to participate in during his isolated moments. The consequent isolation and loneliness that this student felt is what more than 50% of the disabled people in the world face; they are embroiled in a world of loneliness with little hope of coming out of that cocoon. If a non-disabled individual misses a social event because they are nursing injuries or taken in the hospital, they experience a sense of loneliness albeit on a short-term basis (Hine & Mitchell, 2017). However, for disabled people, this is a constant feeling in every social place, school or at work.


When people in one’s social circle leave, the individual is left depressed, trying to understand how to make things right and how to have his friends back. When a disability knocks, and with the knowledge of it being a lifelong issue, most people are left lonely with no one to turn to for help (Warner & Adams, 2016). They become paranoid and question everything about themselves; many of them lose their self-esteem and confidence and drop out of school since they can no longer perform. They lose the will to fight for their place in life; their minds are crowded by negative thoughts, which hinder them from making progress in life (Grootegoed & Tonkens, 2017). Many unmarried disabled people end up never marrying or desiring to have a family since they are full of self-pity and thinking of themselves as failures. A mentioned earlier, some attempt suicide when feelings of loneliness make them feel unwanted. 


Disabled people have problems in performing daily duties and getting access to places; hence, they need  friends or others to assist them. Some have purchased vehicles and power wheelchairs, but in the end, they need people to get them into their cars and reach out to items on the shelves while shopping (Söderström, 2016). They also need friends to help them get home or to the hospital if necessary. This kind of demand is what the abled members of the society find too much to accord since it is out of the ordinary (Harasemiw et al., 2018). Some of these friends leave when they do not know how to continue caring for their disabled friend or when they feel inconvenienced.


Going out, making friends, meeting new people, and engaging in practical activities makes one feel like they have participated and or accepted in society. These feelings disappear when the disabled are left isolated, and they feel lonely for the better part of their lives (Macdonald et al., 2018). Loneliness contributes to stress which affects one’s health and contributes to premature death. From the studies, many disabled people rarely get to their old age because of health complications (Hernon et al., 2015). According to medical insurance statistics, many disabled people spend most of their time in the hospital or taking costly drugs to maintain their bodies. This issue has pushed academia and the government to find other means of salvaging the situation. 


The care and attention that disabled members of the society require are only provided by bodies committed to their cause and nothing more. Some disabled people have booked buses or even visited public places only to find these places are inaccessible. The public areas, coaches, and some planes do not have provisions for  disabled people; thus making them feel unwanted in the society (Hine & Mitchell, 2017). Countries, through parliament and other legislative bodies, have enacted laws which require social places and public infrastructure to have support and provisions for people living with disabilities. Since the disabled are vulnerable, all offices and agencies who serve the public should have a special and more streamlined process for the disabled (Grue, 2016). A simple procedure such as booking a plane or a train should be made seamless for the disabled to avoid escalating their stress levels. Despite the research and evidence showing that loneliness and stress can be significantly reduced through exercise, the disabled are left out. They do not have access to these social facilities, which would otherwise make them healthier and more stable. 

Disabled Lack of Access

The disabled in society lack access to social fitness groups, local sports, exercise facilities, appropriate equipment, and trained personnel. Most of the disabled persons are left with few alternatives since they have no access to the grounds or simple equipment such as a hand-cycle (Hernon et al., 2015). Research has also indicated that accessing some of these items such as the hand-cycle means spending five or more times the money used to purchase a standard bicycle. The escalated prices of these items make the disabled want to live in a separate world, where they will find people who care about their special needs and create opportunities for them to seize. Hotels and guest houses may have a room especially for the disabled, but 90% of these hotels do not have a family room that is accessible by the disabled (Harasemiw et al., 2018). This pushes some of the disabled with families to think about how cruel life can be by not supporting them to have families of their own and the ability to lead a healthy life. The few available rooms in hotels or cruise liners are superior and only accessible at exorbitant rates compared to standard rooms, thus making them impossible for the disabled to afford. 


According to the BBC News in 2018, the U.K. announced a loneliness minister, responsible for the young, elderly and the disabled. The politicians, leaders, and policymakers need to recognize the extra time, cost, and time required to come up with structures that are fully accessible to the disabled and their families (Grue, 2016). Academia, policymakers, and politicians need to find a way of making it easier for disabled people to raise families and become a viable part of society.

Social Exclusion

The domestic network is comparatively present from childhood through youth to old age, but individual relationship networks decrease during maturity. Connections shrink when people experience cognitive or functional problems. Many older adults develop dementia or cognitive decline, which affects their associations with other adults. Once disabled, people no longer perform duties as before; once their functionality declines, they lose touch with those still healthy and able (Hernon et al., 2015). If an accident happens and one becomes disabled, they are replaced at their places of work since they cannot perform at prior levels. Their workmates isolate some, and their old friends lose touch, leaving them lonely and stressed.


Everyone assumes that a family takes care of their own if disabled, but it is prudent to learn that people enjoy external friendships too and require them as well. People look at the disabled with pity, but they fail to address the prejudice, equity, and inclusion issues that these individuals battle on daily occasions (Warner & Adams, 2016). There exist barriers to full social participation for the disabled. Stigma, public arrogance, and a lack of discernment creates these  barriers and influences others negatively. 

Social Comparison and Self-Identity

Society greatly shapes our feelings and views such that individuals, including the disabled, will only react and behave according to the standards set by the public. Self-identity refers to the ability to defy all odds and understand the position that one is in and how to handle such situations regardless of the environment, peer pressure, or comparison (Söderström, 2016). Self-identity is powerfully influenced by negative images and stereotypes, which govern ways in which an individual views not only himself but others and the world. Social comparison is the way people evaluate their positions by comparing their situations with that of others (Harasemiw et al., 2018). The disabled often fall into loneliness quickly because they have compared themselves with the abled. That comparison pushes them to feel guilty when they cannot socialize at meetings, parties, and events with their abled friends because of their disability. The social comparison also makes them feel inferior to the abled, thus many fail to attempt challenges in life, such as a career or sports. The consistency of self-identity is very dependent on one's social interactions. When one fails to interact positively with people in society, they lose their original position (Hine & Mitchell, 2017). They no longer view themselves as healthy but disabled. They only see how unfit they are in society, which makes them feel lonely and pushes them to the edge of depression especially when they lack or have a poor support system.


Loneliness and disability isolation have become a menace and require immediate attention from policymakers, world leaders, and global health practitioners. Some of the interventions suggested by researchers include; group interventions, internet usage, and service provision (Hine & Mitchell, 2017). Tele-conferencing is a modern and cost-effective strategy of mitigating loneliness and bringing people together in geographically isolated regions (Hernon et al., 2015). Parents who are disabled and wish to communicate with their children who are schooling or working away from home can do so through video-conferencing. Support groups, including friendship and educational groups, have performed well in dealing with loneliness, among other social issues. 


According to Holanda et al. (2015), social groups help in reducing isolation as they create an environment of inclusivity. Disabled persons, especially those feeling isolated, should engage in social groups for a period of not less than six months. It is through these social groups that disabled persons can share their unique stories and encourage others not to give up. This goes a long way in ensuring disabled persons accept their situation and learn how to cope with the challenges by incorporating advice and life skills shared by other members of their social groups. The only limitation for this effect is that social groups work only for those who have the necessary skills and ability to join them hence they may not work for everyone.


Mentally challenged people may not find substantial help in a social group because they do not have the necessary abilities to relate with others in the group. An active social group can engage the disabled in many activities, including community building activities, which will help set up a platform for them to feel useful again. Community support services, especially those that contribute to the health and well being of people, make them feel better. For those who want to become less socially isolated, joining retirement villages could be the way to go. Churches and other social organizations have set up areas for disabled people to meet up and interact with each other as well as receive medical attention and social care. 

Social Media

The adoption rates of social network sites among people living with disabilities have increased significantly over the past years. With a broader population having access to the internet, social media is rampantly being used for communication, co-creation, sharing, and modification of content. Social media is adopted as a tool with the potential to mediate loneliness among the disabled. The attitude of the disabled towards social media depends on their ability to positively use it for their good (Hine & Mitchell, 2017). Many of the disabled lose touch with the world and are no longer interested in using other media devices such as televisions and radios. However, a day spent on social media brings joy to these individuals when they connect with others through different social media platforms. One can use social media to interact with people and make new friends from all over the world using applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram (Alhaboby et al., 2016). YouTube is an avenue that the disabled can use to learn through watching videos on exercising, riding bicycles, along with other activities. 


Through social media, one gets inspired, seeing other disabled people making statements and achieving milestones in the world. Social media promotes the social welfare of an individual and helps them to overcome loneliness (Holanda et al., 2015). Many people today perceive social media as a necessity; everyone needs it for socializing and connecting with the world, and so do the disabled. These online platforms provide places where individuals living with disabilities will not be judged, mainly if they do not express their disability (Khosravi, Rezvani & Wiewiora, 2016). However, on the flip side, people from all walks of life are on social media. Bullies may take the opportunity to despise the disabled people on online platforms. However, when faced with such a situation, disabled people should stand up for their rights and report any form of disability harassment to the relevant authorities. Due to such abuse, most social media platforms, including Facebook, have implemented new terms and conditions that prohibit cyber bullying and unethical behavior.


The popularity and influence of the internet have revolutionized disability rights movements across the world, giving voice and hope to many people living with disabilities. Some of the learned disabled friends have become columnists, online disability champions, and human rights activists, shedding light to the world about the rights and privileges of the disabled persons. Attitudes against the disabled will not change overnight, which calls for continued championing of positive reinforcement (Alhaboby et al., 2016). The disabled are reminded not to fight a losing battle with a focus on the negatives of their disability but to accept and learn meaningful strategies of coping with their situation. 


Social isolation leads to loneliness and affects people with disabilities more than the abled. Most of the people living with disabilities lack social or emotional contact with friends or the society. Lacking social contact has consequences such as negative self-esteem, low self-confidence, loneliness, and conflicts with families and friends. The life expectancy of the disabled is lower since they do not lead a quality life; they are affected emotionally, psychologically, and socially. A significant percentage of them attempt suicide due to the pain of social isolation.


Supportive parents and families can educate their disabled children on how to develop social skills that will empower them to lead independent lives. Parents should put them through school and help them build a career. With support from family, a disabled child is likely to overcome bullying in school or in society. Special education services may help children with disabilities to manage their conditions more positively. The IDEA points out that all schools, as directed by the law, should offer free and appropriate learning to every child, even the disabled. The disabled children are eligible for services that level the playing field and equip them with resources that help them reach the universal goals set for their age and grade level. Treating all people the same regardless of their physical, mental, or psychological challenge makes the world a better place for all. When the disabled parties find the attention, love, and care from the world, they lead a more fulfilled life, find love, and get a family just like the abled. Some become scholars and publish books raising awareness about the rights of the disabled and the opportunities they would need. Some countries have ensured inclusivity of the disabled by nominating a member to parliament and leaving 30% of all government offices to be filled by the marginalized groups. Social media is addressed in this paper as the most influential tool used by the public and specifically the disabled to raise awareness about their challenges.








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Below is a link to some highly rated books on social isolation, social rejection, and depression, with many including coping skills useful for disabled people facing these consequences and emotions.