Community access is probably something most people take for granted. After all, most people access their community in various ways: be it through work, hobbies or activities. People do this to give themselves a sense of belonging, an increase in self-esteem and feel they are valued.
What does accessing community mean to you? It has probably happened organically, so you may not have had a chance to think about it.
As someone with lived experience of disability, accessing the community hasn’t been particularly easy for me. I always wanted to play a team sport; most sports I thought I would struggle with, as many are physically demanding.
I discovered lawn bowls which I wanted to try but didn’t know how to approach it, even though there was a bowls club just around the corner from me. I was reluctant because of a fear that I would not be accepted in the club because of my disability, or that they may not have experienced disability before. This fear has often prevented me from accessing the community or mainstream services.
I have also used an agency for access to the community, one-on-one support to go to gigs, art galleries and other fun stuff around town. I did this because at times I have felt socially isolated and lonely, so getting out of the house was a good thing to do. I enjoyed the companionship of the support worker, while not having to worry about how I was going to get to the gig or art gallery.
I have also been reluctant to use one-on-one support to access the community, because I should be able to go with someone who isn’t paid to be with me. As I’ve got older, my friends have got married, had kids and become busy with life, meaning they couldn’t be there to do stuff with them as often as I’d like. When I have used one-on-one support to access the community, I have felt better able to interact with people and feel less socially isolated.
The Bowls Club was not great initially as they had little experience with disabled people but through time, we have learnt to accept each other. This experience taught me to get out there and have a crack at stuff because disabled people need be included in the community and the only way that can happen is if we participate in it.
This article was written by communications officer for VMCH Disability Services, Phin Meere, pictured third from left. Phin writes regular articles about his lived experience with disability.