Tackling Social Isolation - Barriers and Challenges

We asked people first-hand about the main barriers and challenges they face when trying to get involved with things in the community.           

There are many benefits to including People with Disabilities in mainstream society   it reduces discrimination and social isolation, improves mental health and teaches us how to relate to different types of people. It helps us recognise that we all have unique abilities and challenges. It allows us to access and benefit from these abilities and find ways to overcome challenges rather than segregating and suppressing valuable members of society. It makes us better as individuals and as a collective.

Yet social exclusion remains a huge problem for a vast majority of People with Disabilities. In order to understand what’s preventing us from being a more inclusive society, we decided to ask those who experience it and those closest to them about their experiences. We reached out to over 60 people and asked them this question;

What are some of the main barriers or challenges that you face when trying to get involved with things in your community?

These were some of the responses;

“Not having the confidence to engage with new people and try new things. I’m okay in familiar situations.”

“Members of the public are frightened of people with a disability. They are not used to seeing them in public.”

“Lacking confidence when trying new things and engaging with people.”

“Attitudes of people in the community towards people with more significant disabilities is still quite negative at times.”

“Discrimination by different groups. Because they may not have been exposed much to people with disabilities before.”

“I’m scared of people and don’t talk well.”

“Prejudice.”

“My biggest barrier is communicating with other people in a way that they understand.”

“Communication. Struggle with social aspects due to Autism.”

“Fear of new places and social anxiety. Afraid of being rejected.”

“He’s fairly shy, quiet and awkward. Doesn’t want to mingle.”

“My confidence. Working up the courage to try new things and meet new people.”

“People are not prepared to spend time with people with disabilities. They do not have the patience.”

“Anxiety and being able to consistently follow through on things because of my mental health.”


While the answers were varied, we found there were two key themes;

Being discriminated against by individuals or groups who don’t understand or know how to be inclusive. This includes physical access barriers as well as social barriers (e.g. an individual may participant in a group yet not be treated as an equal).

Mental health barriers. In particular social anxiety and/or depression caused by repeated negative experiences with being discriminated against within society and when meeting new people. This perpetuates social isolation. It prevents people from trying new things and meeting new people due to low self-esteem and feeling disenchanted due to past experiences.

There is a link between these two themes, and one perpetuates the other. Put simply, what often tends to happen is this: A Person with a Disability tries to access a new group and experiences discrimination by that group (generally not out of malice but a lack of understanding how to include and interact with different people). There is a fear of the unknown/unfamiliar inherent in all of us. The person then experiences rejection and feels discouraged from trying new things and meeting new people in the future. This increases social isolation, which has a negative impact on their mental health. The more this occurs, the less People with Disabilities are fully participating within our society. We are not then as a society learning how to engage with and include different types of people.

It takes a concerted effort, but the more we include people with disabilities, the better we get at it and the easier it becomes. We learn how to communicate with and relate to people in different ways and we reduce instances of discrimination within our communities. People with Disabilities then experience a more positive reception and are less likely to be rejected. This improves mental health and gives people the confidence to be more active citizens. It can be the difference between someone living a life of isolation and one of connection. Making the effort to be inclusive is not just for People with Disabilities – it’s for all of us. It means better mental health and better relationships. It eases the demand on our public services and it sees more people being appreciated for their uniqueness. It reminds us that although we have different barriers and challenges to overcome, we all have something valuable we can offer.

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