Friends, family, colleagues and celebrities are now all just a click away. Social media and the internet have shrunk the world while growing our circle of contacts. Socialising is a necessary need for humans, and technology has changed the landscape in which it occurs. However, not everyone has access to this broad new horizon and keeping friendships are harder than ever. Loneliness Awareness Week runs from 17 to 21 June and aims to highlight that loneliness is something that affects us all at some point in our lives.
Alison and Kanhai have been friends for well over a decade now, always living relatively close by. Both are deafblind with learning disabilities and both communicate using British Sign Language (BSL). This shared language made their bond stronger as, regardless of what was happening in each other’s lives, they could always talk to each other. They met regularly, ate together, laughed together and on more than one occasion went on holiday together.
Unfortunately, time is a test of all friendships and over time they slowly drifted apart. Neither was at fault and neither could control it. A lack of the necessary support and staffing meant that meeting up became more and more difficult. Slowly, the lunches became less and less frequent. Conversations between the two became increasingly rare. Until one day, it all stopped.
There was no one to blame and nothing that could be done to rekindle it. Two people, who don’t always get a chance to socialise, now had one less friend; one less person to talk to and share experiences with; one less person in their life that, despite wanting to support them both, wasn’t a member of staff. Alison ended up moving to a house further away from Kanhai, making the void in the friendship more physical.
For a number of years, they had minimal contact with each other, only seeing each other at the occasional Sense event. There were no more holidays and no more lunches. Their loneliness became normal as the past drifted further and further away. Until about six years ago. The world was in the grips of a social media revolution and, Allison and Kanhai were determined not to be left behind.
Sense staff worked tirelessly to support them to individually set up their own Facebook page which was far more difficult than initially thought. Setting up a Facebook page for the people that Sense supports involves a delicate negotiation between the independence of the person and keeping them safe online. Mental capacity assessments need to be completed and safeguards need to be put in place. For Alison and Kanhai, this process was relatively straightforward as they are able to access social media and the internet without a member of staff supporting them. The challenge was making them aware of how to be safe online and where they could turn to for support.
Soon after setting up their pages, they found each other again online. They quickly learned how to send messages to one another and progressed to video messaging. Even though there was a distance between them, they could sign to each other again. Their friendship blossomed but the same barriers prevented them from meeting up. Luckily, with the access to technology and Sense staff keen to support their friendship, they could speak regularly.
At the beginning of the year, Allison moved again. This time, a lot closer to Kanhai. Using their social media accounts, Allison offered to cook for Kanhai if he was willing to travel to her. Sense staff was arrange to support the meetings and in March, they once again shared a conversation face to face. Since then, they have met up regularly going on pub trips and exploring the local community. Kanhai has even offered to cook for Allison now and they are currently planning a holiday together.
Kanhai and Allison’s journey demonstrates just how easy it is for the closest of friends to lose contact and drift apart. Thanks to the technology available and the support they received from Sense, they managed to rekindle a friendship that lay dormant for many years. Together they are attending the Sense SURG (Service User Reference Group) Meeting. A meeting which gives people that Sense supports the opportunity to share their views, ideas and experiences of Sense and our services.
The experience these two have had provides a strong case for more support in accessing the internet in a safe way. Regardless of what the future now holds, both of them can rest assured that they can always speak to each other.
Over 9 million adults are often or always lonely and Sense’s research has shown that over half of disabled people report feeling lonely. Kanhai and Alison’s experience is a great example of how people can combat loneliness when the right support is in place. Use Loneliness Awareness Week to start a conversation that is long overdue.
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