In Australia, disability and social isolation/exclusion too commonly go hand in hand. Dr Rhonda Galbally (Chair, National People with Disabilities and Carer Council), said it best in the 2009 National Disability Strategy Consultation Report, when she wrote;
“For many years people with disabilities found themselves shut in – hidden away in large institutions. Now many people with disabilities find themselves shut out – shut out of buildings, homes, schools, businesses, sports and community groups. They find themselves shut out of our way of life.”
Being and feeling isolated or excluded can have profound impacts on a person’s self-worth and self-esteem. If unaddressed, isolation and exclusion can worsen medical conditions and increase the risk of developing any or all of the following;
- Physical symptoms — such as headaches, feeling ill, having pains, feeling tired, having sleep problems or lacking motivation.
- Mental health conditions — such as depression, feeling anxious, having panic attacks or feeling paranoid.
- Low energy — feeling tired or not having motivation.
- Sleep problems — not being able to get to sleep, stay asleep or waking up a lot.
- Diet problems — such as putting on weight, losing weight or losing your appetite.
- Negative feelings — such as feeling worthless or hopeless or thinking about suicide.
- Substance abuse — such drinking a lot of alcohol, misusing medicines or taking drugs.
Isolation and exclusion can also have negative impacts to business.
Research has shown that more than half of the Australians who have a disability or long-term health condition experience social exclusion. That’s a shocking and troubling statistic.
While social isolation is experienced at an individual level and can be voluntary (i.e., a person chooses to not participate in society), social exclusion tends to be caused by factors that are beyond the control of those subject to it.
In other words, people with disability often experience social exclusion due to barriers that society places before them.
When we speak about barriers, there are several kinds that can make it extremely difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to function. Here are the seven most common barriers. Often, more than one barrier occurs at a time.
Individuals and/or businesses can play a small yet significant part in reducing social exclusion by addressing two (2) of the seven (7) barriers described above – Attitudinal and Physical.
Attitudinal barriers result from stigmatisation and non-informed bias. Attitudinal barriers deny people with disabilities their dignity and potential, and are one of the greatest obstacles to achieving equality of opportunity and social integration. Fortunately, attitudinal barriers can be overcome through basic processes, such as having staff (including management) undertake effective disability awareness training. Often, the most effective way to remove attitudinal barriers and reduce stigmas is simply through direct interaction with people with disability themselves. Communicating directly with your customers with disability can help you to quickly and easily identify barriers to your product/offering. Start by asking them how you can assist in making their experience more accessible or more enjoyable for them – they’ll tell you!
Physical barriers on the other hand are structural obstacles in natural or manmade environments that prevent or block mobility (moving around in the environment) or access. Examples of physical barriers include;
- Stairs that block a person with mobility impairment from entering a building;
- Absence of a set of scales in a hospital or doctors surgery that accommodates wheelchairs or others who may have difficulty stepping onto them;
- Product display stands or advertising signage that encroaches into walkways or footpaths.
These barriers, and plenty like them, prevent people with disability from entering your business. These barriers prevent people with disability from spending their money on your product/service. These barriers prevent people with disability from participating fully in community.
It’s important to understand that people with disability do not want to be segregated or isolated. They want to be included, appreciated, and live fulfilling and meaningful lives contributing to their local community.
A more socially inclusive Australia raises everyone’s standard of living, enriching our lives economically as well as socially and culturally. The opposite however can also be stated.
As an Access and Inclusion Consultant, my role is to help break down these barriers, overcoming exclusion, and enabling people with disability full access and inclusion in their community. Get in touch today to find out how I can support your business in becoming more accessible and inclusive.