Having a social life can sometimes be challenging. Accessibility barriers can make it difficult to join in with activities or stay included in your friendship group. These could be social, physical or sensory barriers, other people’s attitudes, or the activity itself.
But going to new places and having different experiences can help you find out what you can do, the support you need and what’s accessible. It can also help you learn how to deal with different social situations and challenges.
Getting involved when you feel excluded
Sometimes friends make assumptions about what you can and cannot do. They may think you’ll be too tired or not interested in coming to an activity because of accessibility barriers. This could be anything from bowling or a funfair to a country walk or going to the pub.
Some friends may decide not to invite you because they think:
you cannot join in and this will make you feel bad
they will need to look after you
that supporting you will affect their experience
that it will be more work to organise an accessible activity or venue
These can be tough assumptions to deal with. But you’re not alone, many people have experienced these attitudes.
It does not have to be your responsibility to help friends understand. But there are a few things you can try to get more involved.
Getting asked to go out
Sometimes being unable to go to an activity or outing can be a little upsetting. If you have to keep saying no to invites, you may worry the invites will stop. You might be anxious that you’re not getting invited to things already.
You might want your friends to ask you to everything, regardless of accessibility. Try saying that you want to have a choice and that it makes you feel excluded when you’re not asked. You can also say that getting invited gives you a chance to suggest something else for a different day.
Or you could try telling your friends which activities you can do so that they can include you.
Be part of the conversation
When you feel excluded from activities or you’re not invited, try setting up group chats. This can keep conversations going with your friends. You could try using social media or messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook messenger.
You could create a group dedicated to meeting up and use it to set up your next outing. You’ll also be able to see all the plans made in your group. This will give you time to plan what you need or check the venue’s access. You can also ask to change plans to an accessible alternative if you want to go. This could be anything, like suggesting a different time, venue or activity.
If it’s easier or more accessible for you to talk on the phone, you could try having group phone calls instead. This could be on Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts.
There will be times when you cannot go to something but do not want friends to miss out. When this happens, try to suggest meeting up on another day and then organise something accessible to you. This helps you stay included even when you cannot say yes to every time.
Try helping organise activities to make sure they’re accessible to you. This will share the responsibility of organising with your friends as well as making sure you can take part.
This can be harder if there’s a last-minute plan. But sometimes suggesting an alternative, like a restaurant or pub that you know has access, can help.
Show friends what you enjoy doing
Make plans to do a few things you enjoy doing, like going shopping or a meal out. It will show your friends that you can go and you want to be invited to similar things.
Over time, it will help friends see what you can do, the different barriers and levels of support you need for each activity. You can show that there’s usually a way around most challenges and change any assumptions about going out.
Make more friends
Being friends with different groups can be a great way to spend time with people that share your interests. You might have different things in common with different people you’ve met through school, hobbies, sports or other groups.
You can also try finding new friends by searching for local activities or using social media, like Twitter, Facebook groups, online communities or forums.
You may also meet people through your impairment or condition. This could be through disability websites, charities, local groups or forums.
Some disabled people have found having friends with a condition or impairment is useful for sharing experiences and advice:
"It’s helpful to speak to or be friends with people who have the same condition. Knowing how they get around things and how they choose to explain their disability helped me. They can help support you with your non-disabled friends."
"Even if there’s no solution you can come to, knowing it’s not just you is really nice. It’s not you that’s the problem."
Talking about your needs
It can be difficult to talk to friends about your impairment or feeling excluded. You may not want to confront them and worry bringing it up might make things worse. Everyone is different and will do things in their own way.
Open conversations about feeling left out
Whether you decide to talk about feeling excluded will often depend on how close you are to your friends. You may prefer to suggest accessible activities instead of directly talking about being excluded.
Being honest with friends can be hard. You may feel that you should be included. You might also feel bad because you think finding ways around barriers is not a friend’s responsibility.
Try to avoid blame. Emotions can be high, especially as being left out can be upsetting, so aim to stay as calm as possible. Try to talk about how it feels when you’re excluded. Tell your friends what would help you. For example, choosing accessible restaurants or going to cinema viewings with subtitles.
Explain that there is usually a way around access issues. Try to help your friends see your condition or impairment as just an aspect of your life. If they do not want to help or make you feel bad about your access needs, that’s not a reflection on you.
Commercial places, like pubs, cinemas, venues, theatres and restaurants, usually have access information on their websites. Sometimes you will need to contact them too to make sure they will be able to meet your needs.
Some places may not have information about accessibility but should find a way to help. Call or email to find out about what adjustments they can make.
Some places have information about their venue on social media. You could also try contacting them through their social accounts if you prefer to talk to them that way.
End the Awkward: talking about disability shares things that have been said to disabled people with tips for non-disabled people on what they can say and should avoid. This advice could be useful when someone says these things to you and you’re not sure how to respond.