When the UK lockdown was announced on 23rd March, I think I speak for most of us when I say that the future seemed hazy and unclear.
Never before has the general population seen a time where they aren’t able to leave their homes except for essential trips and exercise, where supermarket shelves are bare and they cannot see their loved ones outside of who they live with.
However, what I find most shocking of all, is the lack of consideration for the disabled community in all of this.
Lockdown is an inconvenience for most, but the lack of freedom, choice and control it brings is the everyday reality for millions of disabled people worldwide.
Social-distancing – a temporary pain for many but an every-day reality for even more
To form part of my research for this article, I wanted to find out able-bodied peoples’ opinions on loneliness, isolation and their mental health during lockdown.
59% of respondents admitted to feeling lonely in the past week and 82% have felt some sense of social isolation during the lockdown period.
In many ways, this does not surprise me. But in comparison, research by the disability charity Sense has revealed that one in four people with a disability feel lonely every single day.
The reasons for this are complex, but until you live with a disability it’s very hard for able-bodied people to fully appreciate just how non-disability friendly the world is and how isolating it can be to live with a disability.
Take accessibility for example. I wish we lived in a world whereby when I am asked to meet somewhere by a friend or business associate, I could say yes without even thinking about it. However, my “knee-jerk” reaction is to say that I need to check my diary.
The reality is I don’t need to check my diary at all – but what I do need is extra time to google the proposed venue in my own time to see if it’s actually as disability-friendly as it makes out.
All too often I have visited a venue that claimed to be accessible, only to arrive and find that the disabled toilet is being used as a storeroom or cloakroom.
This is why at the start of this year I co-founded a disability access app called Access Rating. It was described by the charity scope as “groundbreaking” as it allows users to submit a disability accessibility review in just 30 seconds and in turn, improve the lives of the 13.3 million people* around the UK living with a disability.
At the moment, people are complaining that they’re unable to go to bars, clubs, restaurants and venues because of the lockdown.
But imagine what it must be like to potentially never be able to go to these places – or when you do, to be plagued by anxiety around whether the facilities could potentially ruin your day?
I know that living through quarantine is a tough feat for us all. But it’s my wish that before you complain that you’re bored, or consider breaking the rules to visit your friends, that you spare a thought for the millions of disabled people for which the term “social isolation” forms the very foundation of their everyday lives.
Social-isolation is damaging for your mental health
In just a short space of time, every-day people are experiencing just how isolating it can be to spend all your time indoors with little-no social interaction.
77% of survey respondents said that lockdown has had some sort of impact on their mental health and 92% believe that long-term social isolation will have an impact on their everyday health.
Disabled people are one of the most isolated communities of people worldwide. Conditions such as depression are more common amongst disabled people than the general population and coupled with issues around accessibility, disabled people are more likely than other groups of people to spend long periods of time indoors.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety, then lockdown will likely be a concerning time for you as you worry about the future and how long social isolation will continue.
But imagine if this was what your life looked like most of the time – with little opportunity to socialise and make new friends.
I can say from experience that having a disability does make it more difficult to connect with others. Throughout the years, I have learned to be wary of new people and their intentions due to bad experiences in the past.
At Access Rating, you don’t need to have a disability to make use of the app and to submit reviews – in fact, we encourage able-bodied people to do so, taking into account the five benchmarks for rating success: door access, accessible toilet facilities, floor space, parking facilities and level access.
You can even go one step further and become an Access Champion. Access Champions are at the forefront of our accessibility revolution, leading by example and submitting quality reviews on a weekly basis.
Al you have to do is register your interest here, then once you’ve submitted 25 reviews you’ll be sent an Access Champion badge in the post to say thank you and after 50 reviews, you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 voucher at one of our top-rated restaurants.
Life after lockdown
Life, at some point, will slowly return to normal for able-bodied people.
But it’s my wish that once the lockdown measures are removed, everyday people remember the struggles they faced – the loneliness, isolation and worry and use these feelings as a catalyst for change.
There are 13.9 million people in the UK who are living with a disability. But the amazing news is that you don’t need to have a disability to be an advocate for our community.
It’s my belief that if we work hard in collaboration, we can create an inclusive, integrated world where disabled people can live in ease and equality with non-disabled people – and it all starts with you, as an individual.
Find out more about Access Rating and how to become an Access Champion here.