Disability comes with its own unique trials, but for me as a very social and outgoing individual, social isolation is one of the hardest challenges to accept. In my experience of transitioning from an able bodied world to a world tacked on haphazardly for a person with paralysis, segregation is commonplace and sadly an accepted part in public spaces and beyond.
To be included in society is a full-time job in itself. Work environments often contain hostile and hard-to-navigate spaces with disability not being an inclusive part of the design process. Spaces do not flow and heavy, fireproof doors are not welcoming to all bodies. Work events and co-workers are a main source of social interaction that sadly is not relevant to a large proportion of disabled living. With reduced incomes this makes social events costly and as a result a luxury rather than a necessity; A vicious cycle.
In June 2011, the HSE published the Report of the Working Group on Congregated Settings – This report envisaged a new model for residential support, deeming congregated settings as illegal and stated people living in such settings will be moved “to dispersed housing in ordinary communities’. Despite the HSE setting out this agreed national policy six years ago, for people with disabilities to be supported “to live ordinary lives in ordinary places’, a shortage of accessible housing is common practice in this day and age even in a developed country such as Ireland. In order to live “independently’ since acquiring my disability I have to live in a congregated setting for three years due to poor housing services available; without free choice to integrate adequately in to a new community and to engage fully with the myriad initiatives designed to lift people out of isolation and segregation. Hard to believe but the only two purpose built wheel chair accessible apartments in Sligo town were constructed on a fourth floor with an elevator that can break down at anytime?!! The irony is painful!
For those without the choice to drive due to a disability, there is a lack of resources to move within communities and beyond due to poor transportation options again furthering isolation. Often ramps are broken on town buses with intercity busses not providing wheelchair access. My first encounter with this situation was a year and a half after my accident when I arrived at the bus station in the early hours of the morning. It was to my horror that I discovered this accessibility issue that as an able bodied individual I had not been faced with before. If it had not been for the kindness of two random gentlemen who graciously carried me on and off the public transport, I would have remained stranded.
Social barriers (as described in my blog Inaccessibility) and subsequent elevated stress levels associated with outings, pain and resultant fatigue are other reasons why many disabled people find it hard to do things at short notice choosing instead opt out of social events and thus adding to their isolation further.