Recently I heard from a friend of mine, a passionate disability advocate, who reminded me that the United Nations General Assembly has designated July 30th as the "5th International Day of Friendship. They (the UN) feel this designation will help promote peace through friendship.
The notion of friendship is a critical one to all of us. In fact, friendship is often a concept that is thought to be so simple that it hardly merits any deep study or discussion. We all know that friendships are important but rarely do we ever think we have to work at the concept. However, the notion of friendship is critical, and especially for people who have experienced a disability, and there is much for us to consider.
Sociologists use the term, "social capital" to describe friendship. To the academics the term "capital" is one that relates to resources that can advance or promote a profit. They speak of physical capital referring to things life land or machinery. Economic capital might refer to goods or service that drive an economy. "Human capital" is often thought to b the people needed to do the work to create the goods or services.
Social capital, however, in the eyes of academics, suggests the connectedness among and between people. Research is now convincing that the more social capital people have in their lives, the better their lives become. We know that social capital is linked to health, happiness, and - listen to this - life expectancy! That is right - social capital, or friendship is antecedant to the 3 highest quality of life indicators know to humankind - health, happiness, and longevity!
Now this is powerful stuff and has real implications for all of us. We know as well that social isolation (the opposite of social capital) is one of the biggest challenges that people with disabilities and their families fear. This has been continually verified in our experiences at CLASS (www.classcommunity.org) and is now being looked at in the literature.
You don't have to dig too deep to understand the reality of social isolation as it relates to disability. We hear and see, in vivid ways, that people with disabilities have less friends and social opportunities than people without disabilities. In fact, in 2012 a Community Engagement Survey was conducted by the Interdependence Network (www.buildingsocialcapital.org) showing that people with disabilities have nearly two-thirds - yes, 66% less - social capital than their able-bodied peers.
This is powerful and penetrating finding - and begs for some basic answers and actions.
And like most vexing questions, the answers are simple, yet complex; but the actions should be clear. All people are better when they have more social capital - yet people with disabilities have less social capital - so what can we (you) do to help in this challenge.
To me the first action is to recognize, and admit this void exists. Next is to act on it - if you are a disability advocate, push for more understanding and action in the area of social capital. If you are a family member of someone with a disability, demand that the agencies you relate to recognize the importance of social capital and help you with this issue. If you are a citizen with no real connection to the disability community, open your eyes (and heart) and consider building friendships with folks experiencing disabilities. Not only with they benefit, but you will be amazed with how this will enhance your life.