One only needs to watch movies like Radio or Simon Birch to notice the light that people with disabilities are cast in within our society. Words like “inspirational” and “brave” are often used in stories to describe people with disabilities overcoming the odds to achieve a goal they set for themselves. While these instances are good and serve a purpose, I feel it only tells half the story of the disabled community.
From a young age I was always pushed to do what I could at the best of my ability. Early on I discovered I excelled at things like adaptive sports and building relationships with people. But that’s only half of the story. When the rose colored glasses came off I saw that I struggled mightily at numerous things. Academics have never been easy for me. Brushing things off has never been easy for me, I often take things personally. Self confidence has always been a struggle. But when the gloves come off I choose perseverance and positivity.
The reality for myself and most, if not all, of the disabled community is that the odds are stacked against us. From the beginning of time the disabled community has been fighting tooth and nail to have better opportunities for us and attitudes about us. Many doctors urge pregnant women to abort pregnancies at the first sign a disability is present within the yet to be born baby. Even as I’m writing this in 2019, dozens of individuals who have disabilities are murdered in what have been deemed “mercy killings” simply because those on the outside looking in at a person with a disability deem that persons life unfit to be lived. Right now in 2019, many people with disabilities risk losing federal benefits such as healthcare if they marry the one they love. The unemployment rate for the disabled community was 8.0% in 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than double the 3.7% rate of those outside the disabled community. This directly correlates to a higher poverty rate and homelessness within the disabled community. And even if a person with a disability is employed, adaptive housing is often significantly more expensive which further fuels the poverty rate within this demographic. Modifying a vehicle so that someone with physical limitations can drive is very costly (my hand controls for my current vehicle cost over $1,000 to purchase and have them installed, and that’s on the low end of the cost spectrum compared to other modifications.) And let’s talk about health insurance. Federally funded Medicare requires recipients to pay a certain percentage of medical costs, which can be almost impossible for those who have either low income or are in poverty as described above. In order for an individual to receive a wheelchair under Medicare the individual is required to pay 20% of the cost of the chair which is often several thousand dollars. Our healthcare system is broken, and that’s describing the situation nicely.
And we haven’t began to touch on societal attitudes towards the disabled community. It’s a gloomy reality when we as a society can rationalize murder of those who have a disability. Far too often we see stories of people with disabilities being institutionalized against their will because they are seen as a burden to society. Sound familiar? Hitler did many of the same things during World War 1 and 2 that are being allowed still today.
So, how do we change that attitude? A good place to start would be to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in society. Getting rid of group homes and using those funds to help support independent living organizations is a grand idea. Modifying the ADA to require all public housing to be disability accessible and on par with the market cost of housing is another idea worth exploring. Also pushing vehicle manufacturers to develop vehicles that are more disability friendly would be a huge step in the right direction.
Regardless of where we have been we have a long way to go before people with disabilities are viewed as equal and treated as such.