The Prevalence of Social Isolation Among PWD (And How To Combat It)

two individuals playing a video game, being social, and not isolated, using several different switches and adaptive controllers


two individuals playing a video game using several different switches and adaptive controllersPhoto provided by Powered by AbleGamers partner, Ability KC


Humans are social beings. We spend much of our lives around the people that we care about and enjoy being with, like our family, friends, romantic partners, acquaintances, co-workers, and more. While isolation and alone time can be necessary for us and good for our mental health, we still require social interactions in some capacity.

Social isolation is a term that’s used to describe a lack of social connections. Individuals who are socially isolated have limited interactions with others throughout their daily lives. Social isolation can affect anyone, it can occur for many different reasons, and it can lead to a variety of adverse health outcomes. The potential effects of social isolation include:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Impaired immunity
  • Accelerated cognitive decline
  • Poor cardiovascular function
  • Impaired executive function
  • Increased risk of premature death

And signs and symptoms of social isolation can involve:

  • An inability to communicate with others and connect on a deeper level
  • Not having any close or best friends
  • Feelings of isolation, no matter where you are and who you are around
  • Negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth
  • Feeling unseen or unheard when you reach out to others (they don’t reciprocate your efforts)
  • Feeling exhausted or burnt out when trying to engage socially

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced many people around the world to social isolation and the effects it can have as billions of people were locked down at home. But even before the pandemic, there was a certain group of individuals that have always been at a higher risk of experiencing social isolation: people with disabilities (PWD). In this article, we’ll discuss the prevalence of social isolation among PWD and ways to combat it.

The Relationship Between People With Disabilities and Social Isolation

Social isolation is a concern for everyone, but it is especially prevalent among people with disabilities. Just about 1 out of every 4 adults in the United States—over 60 million people—have some kind of disability. Disabilities can range in type and severity, but can generally affect mobility, hearing, vision, cognition, self-care, and the ability to live independently. Because of these potential barriers, people with disabilities may face greater challenges when it comes to social interactions. Some of the reasons PWD may be more likely to experience feelings of social isolation include:

  • Mobility – People with disabilities may use a wheelchair or other assistive device that makes it challenging for them to get around and interact socially. It may also be difficult to transport assistive devices to different locations, and PWD might also need assistance with transportation.
  • Communication – PWD may also use other assistive technology, devices, or forms of communication to interact with others. This can sometimes make it difficult to interact socially, especially if other individuals do not understand the best method of communication.
  • Perception – People with disabilities can sometimes be perceived negatively by others and not treated with the respect they deserve. This can directly lead to feelings of social isolation, loneliness, low self-worth, and being unwanted. Even when individuals are respectful, they may still treat PWD differently and not as equals, whether they realize it or not.
  • Employment – PWD are also at increased risk of feeling socially isolated because they don’t always have the opportunity to hold a job. Interacting with co-workers every day is one of the ways that people socialize on a daily basis, so if that opportunity is not present, it makes feelings of social isolation more likely.

Over 40% of individuals in the United States with a disability, mental health condition, or chronic disease report feelings of loneliness and social isolation. As mentioned earlier, depression and social isolation are closely linked. Studies show that depression occurs more frequently in adults with disabilities than in people without disabilities.

On top of the increased occurrence of social isolation in PWD, its effects can be particularly severe for people with disabilities, since it may be more difficult to make any changes that could help. However, there are some things that can help combat the prevalence of social isolation for people with disabilities.

Ways To Combat Social Isolation for People With Disabilities

There are a few ways to reduce the risk of feeling socially isolated for people with disabilities. These efforts include things that PWD can personally do, as well as larger societal changes that can help create a more inclusive world. Here are a few ways to combat social isolation for PWD:

  • Increasing Accessibility – The first way to combat social isolation for PWD is to increase accessibility for them. It’s incredibly difficult to have social interactions if there are not many opportunities to do so. So increasing accessibility includes continuing to create inclusive spaces that PWD are able to access and be comfortable in. This involves creating transportation solutions to help PWD get where they want to go, developing technologies that can be used to communicate, and improving other services to assist them in succeeding in social situations.
  • Providing More Work Opportunities – Another way to combat social isolation for people with disabilities is by working to provide more opportunities for employment. Many PWD are fully capable of working, but there are not always enough opportunities for them to do so. Creating specific roles for PWD increases a company’s inclusivity and helps people with disabilities have more opportunities to socialize with others.
  • Using TechnologyUsing technology can help reduce social isolation for people with disabilities by providing them the tools to connect with others, even if it can’t be in person. This technology includes devices, software, and other equipment that help PWD live more independently and communicate with others. This technology can include things like screen readers and screen reading software, braille displays, magnifiers, amplification systems, text-to-speech systems, talking devices, and more.
  • Playing Video Games – Similar to using technology, one of the best ways to combat social isolation for PWD is by playing video games. There is a connection between video games and social isolation that shows gaming can reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. This is because PWD have the opportunity to bond with others over something that they both enjoy. 

This can involve playing games, but also discussing them, coming up with strategies, sharing other interests, and more, which can lead to more social interactions, the development of social skills, and even new friendships. In fact, 84% of gamers around the world state that playing video games helps them connect with others who share their interests.

At AbleGamers, our mission is to create opportunities that enable play in order to combat social isolation, foster inclusive communities, and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. We know that video games can be the perfect gateway to community participation, lifelong friendships, and unforgettable shared experiences. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure these experiences are developed with accessibility as a priority and inclusion as the goal.

We are working every day to make sure people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else for positive experiences through play. With our nearly two decades as pioneers in inclusive play, thousands of hours working with people with disabilities, and leading developers and engineers, we create opportunities for players to find inclusive places to play and connect with family and friends. Learn more about what we do here, or help continue our crucial work by making a monetary donation or purchasing something from our shop!