Today is Disability Awareness Day, so here are a few things I wish abled people were aware of.
Disability is common.
One in five Americans is disabled. If we were legally considered a minority group like we should be, we’d be the largest minority in the country.
Disability is varied.
Disabilities can impact cognition, mobility, fine and gross motor skills, speech, and health. Most disabilities are “invisible” or not readily apparent. Disability can impact appearance, but that is less common.
Disability is ageless.
Disability impacts every age group. Some conditions such as diminished eyesight and hearing are more likely to develop with age, and other disabilities are present from birth, like autism and cerebral palsy.
Disability is multiracial.
Disabled people come from every race and ethnic group. Recognition of and accommodation for disability, however, is sadly linked to race. If a white woman and black woman go to the same psychiatrist and report the same symptoms, the white woman is likely to be diagnosed with depression while the black woman is diagnosed with anger management problems. Racism in medicine is a disability issue.
Disability is linked with poverty.
Disabled Americans have an unemployment rate more than double the average. 40% of homeless Americans are disabled. In the United States, disabled adults are expected to live off of $750/month to cover all their expenses, when it’s hard to even find rent that cheap. Adults with cognitive impairments are legally paid a sub minimum wage.
Disability is linked with violence.
Disabled people are one of the most targeted groups for state-sanctioned violence, from abusive group homes and special education classrooms to police brutality. Disabled people of color are at increased risk. Diabetic comas have been mistaken for drug overdoses and a Latino with Down Syndrome was attacked by police who insisted he had a suspicious bulge under his shirt (his colostomy bag).
Disabled children and adults are also more likely than peers to be victims of sexual abuse, and to be abused by their parents or guardians. Financial limitations on independence keep many disabled people living with abusers, because they can’t afford the care they rely on their abuser for. Familial murders are not uncommon. Each year we hold a Disability Day of Mourning for those we’ve lost to violence against them.
Disability can be painful.
Pain is a factor in many, many conditions, and the main factor in chronic pain conditions. The current “war on opiates” is dangerous and unhealthy for many of us. State and federal laws restricting marijuana cultivation and sale keep many disabled people in perpetual pain.
Disability can be joyful.
While abled people tend to assume we have a lower quality of life than they do, the truth is that – with the exception of depression and similar mood disorders – in general, (housed) people with disabilities self report levels of contentment and happiness similar to our (likewise non homeless) abled peers. (Homelessness is super depressing and homeless people are rarely included in studies.)
Disability could be better.
Better legal protections, more enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, higher disability payments, a streamlined process for disability application, real inclusion in public schools, and more comfortable chairs and public bathrooms in the world would make a big difference. Confronting everyday ableism from casual use of words like “crazy” and “stupid” would help too. There’s a lot that could make disabled life better, starting with housing every homeless person and providing medical care, including effective pain relief, to all.