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Maintaining a Social Life When you Have a Disability

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Social Life Disability Learning

Some people with learning disabilities may have difficulty in socialising within mainstream society. This can be for one or more reasons; they may have a physical impairment that makes accessing social venues and taking part in certain social activities difficult.

They may have a mental impairment that affects their social skills, so socialising becomes a challenging prospect. But in this current climate, are there ways to improve or maintain a social life when you have a learning disability?

The Challenges

Typically, people with learning disabilities have had limited opportunities to socialise, which only serves to exclude them from pursuing social and leisure activities that most people enjoy. The chance to socialise has also been limited by poor or rigid transport services that link into the wider community.

However, in recent years attitudes towards the needs and requirements of people with learning disabilities have changed. It has been recognised that social opportunities for learning-disabled are restricted, and can remove them even further from mixing with people of all abilities.

There has been a call to change, to improve services and support that will empower people with learning disabilities to acquire the skills and opportunities that will lead to a more active social life and the chance to build new friendships and relationships.

Valuing People

Some people with learning disabilities may have the chance to socialise within their day centre settings. Others may only have friends that are paid to be with them, such as carers. However, in these cases, activities can be limited, with little opportunity to develop personal interests and learn new skills. This in turn impacts on the ability to acquire new skills needed to improve employment opportunities, thus improving the chance to live more independently.

The Government recognises that some people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties may benefit greatly from support and guidance with social skills. It is felt that encouraging people with learning disabilities to socialise within the wider community can serve two purposes; it not only opens up the chance for people with learning disabilities to widen their social circles, but also helps to educate mainstream society about the challenges faced by learning disabled people.

In the 21st century, unfortunately there are still many misconceptions about people with learning disabilities that can lead to discrimination. By removing barriers and discouraging social exclusion, perhaps some of these misconceptions can be reconsidered.

Modernising Services To Improve Socialising Skills And Opportunities

In the white paper Valuing People (2001), the Government said that by 2006 it wanted to modernise service, to make sure that a wide range of leisure activities were more accessible to people with learning disabilities. At the time, it was felt that day centres did not provide enough constructive social activities that encouraged socialising and personal development.

Since Valuing People was published, a number of initiatives have commenced. The Government has made the point that it wishes to consult learning disabled people and their families when constructing support services.

To date, there have been moves to build upon self-directed support or self-advocacy; giving learning disabled people the opportunity to have more control over the services they receive. For instance, direct payments facilitate those with learning disabilities to access the finances that will open up more socialising opportunities for them.

To address the social issues faced by people with learning disabilities, there have also been substantial efforts to start linking up day centres with community-based activities. Some specialist groups are dedicated to improving the opportunity to socialise for socially excluded people.

Local councils may provide specialist services designed to help foster new friendships, provide new activities, the chance to learn new skills and meet people that they might not otherwise have the chance to befriend.

For more information, contact your local authority or care manager to find out what schemes are currently running in your area.

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