I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Parliamentary reception for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, about my own experiences of loneliness as a disabled person.
I am deafblind; I’m severely sight impaired and have a severe to profound hearing impairment. Accessing social situations and noisy busy environments can be very difficult for me. Feeling frustrated, annoyed, angry, scared or upset because I cannot access something, or go somewhere – due to the implications of my impairments – can be made worse by feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
I was very nervous at delivering my speech, as I have never spoken in front of so many people at such an event before. However, I felt assured in having prepared my speech. Also Sense staff were great at ensuring I knew what was happening at the event. I was very pleased when my speech went so well.
I experienced loneliness throughout different times at University. In my experience, a lot of support is provided for the academic side of University, but not for the social or general living side, although I know this is slowly changing. I lived in catered halls of residence for two of the five years at University, which I found to be a very lonely and isolating experience. I chose to live there for convenience of access to the University campus, but it was a difficult environment to access. In many ways it was an auditory and visual nightmare. It was a very noisy place to live and difficult to navigate physically, so I struggled to meet other people and socialise.
I also lost quite a bit of weight, as I didn’t often know what the food was: I couldn’t hear the staff telling me what the food was, and I was not provided with large print information about the food. Therefore I felt nervous and hesitant eating unknown food. Meals were also often quite lonely, as the room was so busy and noisy, there was again no chance I could hear to socialise with new people. Accessing communication in noisy and busy situations like this will always be challenging and can be a lonely experience.
In my second year of University, I managed to meet new people and make friends through various disability orientated societies and groups, which greatly improved my confidence and my social and general living situation, as I was happier outside of a halls environment, so I felt more comfortable in halls despite persisting issues. Having access to those groups positively changed my experience of University.
Having support from family and friends is so important and can reduce loneliness and social isolation. I consider myself quite lucky to have supportive family and friends.
I graduated from University last year with my masters degree and I’m currently job searching. As a disabled person, I’m finding job searching quite difficult. Whilst I have qualifications, so many jobs require experience. I find it incredibly difficult to gain work experience or volunteering, as there is no support available for this type of work, whereas there is support available with paid employment.
Employment is another way to get to know people and build social connections that can help reduce loneliness and social isolation. Although I’m still looking for full-time work, I have been doing some work experience with Sense to create an employment toolkit for people with sensory impairments. Being able to access this work experience has made a positive difference and increased my confidence.
As a disabled person, I think there are so many barriers to many areas of life – physical barriers, attitudes and awareness, communication and information access and the provision and access to services and support. Addressing these barriers would make a positive difference to many aspects of loneliness and social isolation.
This post is part of a series of blogs for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness Spotlight on Disability