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Physical Disability, Social Situations and Mental Health
Opinions,  Research

Physical Disability, Accessibility to Social Situations and Mental Health

This new restaurant in town has been all the rage. You and your friends have planned and booked a reservation a week ago to eat dinner there. You reach the place, it’s on the second floor and the elevator is inoperable. You are wheelchair bound. 

Disabled people of India face a major challenge to gain accessibility to spaces in order to socialise in person. Accessibility to social situations is incredibly important for everyone regardless of their ability. The prevalence of disability in India was 2.2 per cent in 2018.  That makes it so important and urgent to create spaces and opportunities for everyone to socialize regardless of their ability. Access to cafes, public parks, movie theaters, malls etc where socialisation usually occurs and an ability to independently travel to the desired location needs to be addressed. This is incredibly difficult in India where the infrastructure of our public places is not designed keeping in mind diversity in ability. We need ramps in buildings and housing societies that are designed for humans and not cargos and accessible elevators. Transport can be made more efficient and disability friendly by haviging ramps on buses and trains. Taxi services that are disability friendly should be offered so people can travel relatively easily. 

Accessibility to social situations in order to build social ties is needed because it has  advantageous effects on our health and wellbeing. Humans have a social brain and that has helped us survive. Socialisation from eons has protected us from impending danger. There is a higher risk of mortality and poor health if there is an absence of close social relationships; this absence might be a consequence of accessibility. 

Mental Health is related to favorable socialization too. Better mental health is related to fulfilling relationships and interactions. Individuals with disability may have lesser opportunities for favorable socialization thus probably having an impact on mental health. Although, the online world might provide us access to fulfilling social relationships the advantages of in person contact have to be considered. In person contact releases a whole cocktail of neurotransmitters, simply shaking hands or high fiving someone trusted lowers our stress levels. Socialization is motivating, a tool for happiness, source of resilience  and social context also determines formation of healthy habits. 

Often children and adolescents with physical disabilities are overlooked or excluded when school physical activities are conducted. These activities are fun and engaging and are scenes for play and socialization. Schools need to make classrooms and sport more engaging for all children regardless of their ability and think of new ideas that they can facilitate with inclusion, for example allowing children with disabilities to play in a wheelchair.

Socialization has crucial consequences for an organisation development too. Supervisors and coworkers are considered to greatly influence integration of people with disabilities. It shouldn’t be a token system wherein the person with disability just got hired for representation, in order to provide adequate support, there should be a team of individuals with disabilities – who can support and share with each other.

Accessibility to social situations is paramount to our mental and physical wellbeing and has lasting impact on us thus it’s only just to ensure that everyone has the means to benefit from the advantages of socialization. 

Berkman LF, Kawachi I, Glymour MM. Social Epidemiology. 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2014.

Government of India Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation National Statistical Office. (July – December 2018). Persons with Disabilities in India NSS 76th round.

Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 2010;7(7)

Kulkarni, Mukta & Lengnick-Hall, Mark. (2011). Socialization of people with disabilities in the workplace. Human Resource Management. 50. 521 – 540. 10.1002/hrm.20436. 

Tough, H., Siegrist, J. & Fekete, C. Social relationships, mental health and wellbeing in physical disability: a systematic review. BMC Public Health 17, 414 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4308-6

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