Friendships that are freely given, and built upon mutual respect and trust help people feel safe and secure, and provide opportunities for personal growth and development. They give people the capacity to achieve their hopes and dreams!
All friendships are unique. Different friends meet different needs, and we are often closer to some friends than others. Some friendships exist for only a short time in our life, and are connected to certain places that we spend our time, while others last a lifetime and cut across a range of places and activities in our lives. Some new friendship quickly develop, while others don’t. Sometimes it can be difficult if a friendship doesn’t work out, but in most cases people are able to learn from their experience and move on. Friendships can also be the basis from which intimate relationships develop.
A deep and meaningful friendship is not something that can be bought with money, nor is it something that can be forced upon people. Friendship is a choice. And, there is no formula for making friends. It sometimes happens instantly, and other times it takes many years.
Friendship typically start with people meeting each other, usually in person, but sometimes phone, letter, or on the internet. Over time, these people may find that they enjoy each other’s company, have similar interests, or common values.
A friendship has more chance of developing and lasting when the people involved:
- are able to regularly spend time together
- are able to keep in touch outside of the time spent together
- are able to have fun
- both benefit from the friendship
- are able to help each other out and do things for each other.
Friendly communities: friendships between people with and without disabilities
Most people would agree that friendships have impact on the way a community feels. The way we treat each other in our community influences whether or not people feel welcome, accepted and cared for. There is no escaping the fact that if we all were just a little friendlier to each other, the world would be a much nicer place! In this way, friendship is not just about us as individuals, it also contributes to the good of a community. Friendships between people with and without disabilities can help build more diverse and inclusive communities.
Friendships between people with and without disability often happen spontaneously and can be born from the networks of natural supports found out in the community. It is also possible to create social opportunities that encourage these types of friendship to form. Here are four conditions we think are important to creating opportunities for friendships between people with and without disabilities:
Presence: People with disabilities need to be out and about in the everyday spaces of the community. Being together in the same place at the same time is a good start for forging friendships.
Common-ground: Shared interests are important for the development of friendships. Shared interests emphasises commonalities between people.
Regular contact: Friendships can take time to develop so it’s important that people are given frequent and ongoing opportunities to get to know each other.
Valued Roles: Focus on roles, rather than activities. This allows people to demonstrate and become known by their strengths, talents and contributions (Klees, 2013).
Friendships between people with and without disability are sometimes thought of as the ultimate marker of community inclusion, and while such friendships are undoubtedly valuable, we also believe it’s important to recognize the value of friendships among people with disabilities.
Community of peers: shared experiences and spaces of disability
It’s important not to forget about friendships among people with disabilities. We believe these friendships, when they are freely given and chosen, are an important relationship and step towards achieving the good life. These relationships are about people with disabilities coming together and forming friendships because they want to, and on their own terms.
Friendships sometimes result from shared experience and we often feel a sense of comfort and belonging in the company and shared social spaces of other people who have similar experiences and backgrounds to ourselves. People tend to gravitate towards familiar people and places where they feel known and accepted.
Sometimes this means that friendships among people with disabilities are associated with particular disability service related places or settings, like disability-specific sporting events. Having a welcoming place to go where disability is the ‘norm’ is important for some people and their feelings of self-worth and personal safety. Choosing to be with others who share similar experiences of disability can be a self-affirming choice for some people.
This is, of course, not to say that all people with disabilities are the same and will therefore automatically be friends. Personal choice is key. Everyone deserves the opportunity to choose with whom they spend their time!
Sometimes friendships among people with disabilities is thought of within the context of self-advocacy. Self-advocacy takes different forms depending on context and location, but in general it is about:
- speaking up for yourself
- standing up for your rights
- making choices
- being independent
- taking responsibility for yourself.
Self-advocacy for people with disabilities might therefore be thought of as a process of learning how to make and communicate decisions about their life. This is important because people with disability are increasingly working together to highlight the discrimination they face and to demand greater control over their lives. This sometimes occurs through Disabled People’s Organisations, online groups, or collective public actions. A sense of solidarity with others who face similar challenges is important for collective political action and creating positive social change.