One in four people admit they have actively avoided conversations with disabled people, research shows, prompting concerns that there is a ”silent epidemic” of isolation across the UK.
A survey of more than 2,000 people by national disability charity Sense found that half (52 per cent) believed they had much in common with disabled people, with “fear of causing offence”, “feeling uncomfortable” and “not knowing what to talk about” the most commonly cited reasons for avoiding conversations.
The research, conducted as part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, highlights the disproportionately high levels of loneliness among disabled people. More than half (53 per cent) said they felt lonely and just under a quarter (23 per cent) said they experienced loneliness on a typical day, according to the charity.
Young adults under the age of 24 were twice as likely to have avoided conversations with disabled people. They were also found to be the least likely to meet disabled people, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed unable to recall the last time they encountered someone with a disability. More than three quarters of disabled young people said they suffered from loneliness.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who is co-chairing the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, said it was crucial that misconceptions about disability are fought in order to reduce loneliness among disabled people.
“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,” she said.
“Increasing awareness of different conditions and battling misconceptions about disability are both important steps to help reduce loneliness amongst disabled people.”
Deputy CEO of Sense, Richard Kramer, meanwhile said: “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“We all have things in common; however, outdated attitudes towards disability are still preventing people from striking up conversations and finding the shared interests that are often the key to friendship.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.”