Tuesday, 16 November 2010

How Does Being Disabled Impact on Wellbeing?

"How do you get up from an all time low?"

A status update I recently read on Facebook, the poster was taking a line from a
song by the boy band The Wanted, which they felt was especially relevant to their own life. The comments which followed developed into a frank and open discussion on the challenges disabled people face when trying to interact with the world outside their front door, and the reality that barriers in achieving this can result in a feeling of isolation, depression and or low self esteem.

As a disabled person myself, writing this article has been a significant challenge. My mindset, as is the case with so many people with disabilities, is to highlight things we can do, rather than focusing on what we can’t. However, reality means that for everyone with a physical, sensory or mental impairment there is something about the cards we’ve been dealt which presents extra challenges. For the most part these are just aspects of our lives which make us who we are, everyone has something which makes them different and a disabled person will confront these as a matter of personal routine. However, when the going gets tough, sometimes the reality of an impairment presents one too many hurdles to get going.

Allow me to illustrate by way of a scenario which I hope many can relate to, even if only because it sounds like a nice thing to be doing.

Imagine you’ve had a rubbish day at work and, in order to feel better you walk home via a local park,. The fresh air and late afternoon sunshine will do you good. On the way you happen to see a poster for a film you read about in the paper on the bus that morning and decide to make going to see it at the weekend the thing you’ll look forward to. You call a couple of friends up to sound them out, but they’re not interested. Although it would have been nice to have company it’s not the end of the world, you always did have superior taste when it came to cinema and you’d only have to explain the plot to them in the pub afterwards so you’re quite happy to go by yourself. You agree to meet them on Friday night anyway. Weekend plans fixed up, and the combination of drinks with your mates plus a bit of ‘you’ time doing something you love and suddenly, even though you’re not looking forward to work in the morning, you have something to look forward to at the end of the week.

Now imagine how different that series of events might be if you had a disability of some kind. Maybe you’re in a wheelchair and, much as you’d love to lift your spirits by taking the park route home, steps on the way in and uneven paths make it too tiring an option to tackle by yourself.

Alternatively, you’re registered blind and you miss your local cinema’s one audio described screening of the film you wanted to see. Although normally you’re quite happy to go to the cinema on your own, with this being a particularly visual film, you wouldn't get the full experience.

Incidents such as these as one offs can quite easily be put down as just one of those things, every life has it’s frustrations. It’s when a series of unsatisfactory events happen where an impairment is a major part, that someone is vulnerable to wellbeing issues.

I used the example of a bad day at work as it is something most of us have experienced at some stage. I accept that unemployment in all sections of society is rising, however disabled people are presented with extra challenges in finding employment than able bodied. A smaller pool of practical vacancies, and perception on the part of potential employers of how a disabled person might fit into their workplace, are unarguable factors.

Then there are access issues with regard to entertainment, something which is vastly improving, you only need to see how someone in a wheel chair tackles the
music festivals in the mud to know what can be achieved with a bit of help and determination. But it only takes a wheelchair bound person’s favourite band to play upstairs in a pub which has seen better days, no captions at a deaf person’s local theatre or cinema, or people with any number of impairments not having friends who share the same quirky interests as them and it’s another night in watching crap TV.

These, and other such issues mean people with a disability of some kind can very easily develop feelings of isolation from the general day-to-day world, and, depending on how they feel about this, can quite easily lead to a drop in self-worth/esteem. Just as with non-disabled people, there are many reasons for why loneliness or depression might take its hold. However, for the disabled person, coming to terms with their impairment, or the life situation it has put them in, can present challenges to positive wellbeing.

Many in this situation will head for the computer. Although not the same as face to face socialization, the Internet does present a way of connecting with people and that can lead to possibilities outside of the house.

When my regular running partner moved away, I searched for running clubs in my local area on Google and two years later am fitter than ever. Then there are the opportunities social networking presents, (OK, so it’s not much fun if you’re feeling down and you log in to Facebook to be confronted by a list of status updates where other people seem to be having more fun,; or invitations to events have to be rejected for no other reason than you can’t go alone) but as millions can confirm, old friends can be found, and new ones made – they don’t even need to know about a disability until a connection has been made over a shared interest.

The Internet also provides those that want it with the chance to express how they feel about life, either via a semi-public platform like Facebook, or as anonymously as they want on forums and blogs.

Through a combination of society generally opening it’s mind, and a bit of a legal prod when necessary thanks to the Disability Discrimination Act, now
Equality Act, the potential for a disabled person to experience things they enjoy is far greater, but there’s still no hiding from the fact that the general public needs to be better educated about disabilities - and I include myself here as I’m no less ignorant about other impairments than anyone else.

I’m optimistic about how
Channel 4 are throwing themselves into covering the
London Paralympic Games, if they can make it as much as a TV event as cricket, then we may all have a greater understanding of what some people experience when a bit of their body doesn’t function as it should. And with understanding comes knowledge and greater
confidence both when confronted with a person that is different from what you’ve experienced before, and for that person in question, a greater chance of being integrated. You can install all the wheel chair ramps you like, but if the people at the top of it feel awkward talking to a disabled person, then they’re still going to feel isolated, just a few feet higher up.

*If any of the issues covered in this blog interest you and you would like to contribute one of your own, please send the link to off.your.rocker.campaign@gmail.com
Thank you*


  1. Thank you very much for writing this article. I can strongly relate; having a disability ( in my case chronic pain ) can be really dehumanizing because the little pleasures other people just take for granted are made more difficult if not outright removed.

  2. Interesting article from BBC News:
    I am working on a follow up to this blog which may or may not see the light of day.