Disability History Month – Barriers for disabled people accessing health and social care services

Starting on the 18th November, and finishing on the 20th December, is UK Disability History Month. This year’s focus is on access and how far we still need to go as a society. In this second installment covering the UK Disability History Month, I discuss access to health and social care services for individuals who are disabled and the barriers they may face.  This is an increasingly important topic with around 1/5 people thought to live with a disability in the UK.

Physical barriers 

There are a couple of major physical barriers that may prevent or make it more difficult for disabled individuals to access health and social care services. The first physical barrier is the location of the healthcare provider, as this can be a deciding factor in whether someone can actually get to their appointments or not. If someone has a physical disability, they may not be able to walk more than a few hundred metres at a time. Therefore it is important that all public transport can get to within close proximity of any healthcare providers. It is important that as in many cases as possible, that disabled individuals can get to their appointments by themselves, particularly when it comes to feeling independent as a disabled person. Although some hospitals provide transport, some cannot afford to do so (see Worcestershire Transformed’s article on funding cuts to the NHS). At Worcestershire Royal Hospital, the hospital entrance bus stop has been removed and there are constant changes and cuts to services that take passengers to the hospital. This lack of access is failing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Another physical barrier that disabled people face when accessing health and social care settings is ensuring that they have accessible toilets. While most do have some, many of them cannot even be used by wheelchair users and that means that it may puts individuals off attending appointments due to the fact that there is not a toilet they can use. 


Communication can be a serious barrier that can affect a disabled person’s ability to access health and social care services. This is due to the fact that some physical and learning disabilities can cause an individual to have problems communicating. These can lead to a number of issues affecting the access to a service, including when it comes to booking appointments and then communicating during an appointment. Not being able to be able to book an appointment because an individual has trouble with communication can be really embarrassing for them, so its essential that service providers do everything in their power to make the process as easy as possible. One alternative is to arrange the appointments with carers or family members, as this could enable effective communication between the professional and carer.

Another reason why communication might cause access problems for disabled people is that they may struggle to put their concerns into words to discuss with a doctor . A way to resolve this would be for the patient to get an advocate to do the talking for them, as they are trained to communicate with those who find it difficult and can clearly explain the patient’s problems. If the advocate service is unavailable due to budget cuts or them being unavailable, the professional must have knowledge on how to communicate with those who find it difficult. This can be done by completing training with providers such as Communication Access UK.

It is clear that access to health and social care services for disabled people can be a struggle, therefore we must ensure that everyone has a fair chance to get healthcare when it is required.

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