Avibra was created with the specific mission of helping people of all walks of life live happier, more secure lives. We take our commitment to our community at large seriously, and we’re always working to find new ways to make a real difference. Last month, Social Impact featured homelessness and housing insecurity. This month, the topic is disability discrimination. We will also be donating to the American Association of People with Disabilities, an organization whose mission is to promote equal opportunity, economic power, independent living and political participation for those with disabilities.
Disabilities come in many forms. For some, it might be a learning disability they’ve struggled with their entire lives. For others, it could be a sudden and new physical disability after an accident. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines it simply as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Passed in 1990, the ADA has helped guarantee better living and working conditions for millions of Americans with disabilities. However, the struggles are still very real for many.
There are 61 million people in the US who have a disability—that’s 1 in 4 adults. Our communities can all benefit from us working together to make sure that everyone can be free from discrimination based on a disability.
Being Seen Only for Their Disability
We often talk about the legal or economic issues of groups of individuals in our Social Impact series—and that will absolutely be something we cover below. However, there’s also a social aspect to living with a disability that can’t be fixed exclusively through legislation. It’s often the case that those with visible disabilities feel as though that becomes the most relevant part of their identity to others. They’re disabled first, and a parent, coworker or even partner second. While a disability may be an important part of a person’s life, it’s important to make space to also learn about their love of woodworking or music from the 80s.
On the flip side of only being seen for a disability are those who live with what are commonly referred to as invisible disabilities. Examples of this can range from a mental health condition and epilepsy to cystic fibrosis and chronic back pain. People with invisible disabilities often struggle with getting recognition for their disability and even treatment, sometimes. They may be the students who need extra time on a test or the younger person on public transit who needs a seat to avoid being in pain. Awareness of invisible disabilities allows us to become more understanding of different ways other people are moving through the world. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Americans may suffer from an invisible disability.
Disability and Healthcare
Many Americans struggle with getting access to affordable healthcare, those with disabilities most of all. This is doubly true for those with disabilities that affect their mobility. Over 25% of healthcare spending in the US is related to a disability. Between regular doctor’s visits, medications, specialists, testing and imaging, therapies and mobility equipment, the costs can quickly add up. For 2020, the out-of-pocket maximum limit for health insurance plans is $8,550. Those with disabilities can quickly run into their limits each and every year, depending on their needs. While some may qualify for additional disability assistance through Medicare, 67% of Social Security disability claims are denied.
Affordability isn’t the only issue when it comes to healthcare. Many specialists are only located in larger cities, and there are even some specialty clinics that only have a few locations across the country. Think of the last time you squeezed in a doctor’s appointment before work? It’s quite a bit harder to do when the drive is a couple of hours each way. For those who are working, it’s tough to constantly get days off (or have to go unpaid). For parents, it’s difficult to have to get childcare or even a pickup from school.
Disability and Employment
Over half of disabled Americans are in their working years, and 1 in 8 workers will be too disabled to work for five years or more in their career. Necessary accommodations aren’t always easy to get, and some jobs are unable to be obtained or maintained depending on the type of disability. Due to the wide range in types of disabilities, employers may not be as prepared as we’d hope—regardless of what the law says is required of them. Each person (even with a similar disability) may navigate through the world differently. One deaf person, for example, could lip read while another may not be able to.
On the other hand, there can also be too much attention paid to a disability. Coworkers could underestimate a disabled employee or make them feel uncomfortable for it. While these issues should certainly be addressed by the workplace itself, we each need to consider how we’re treating our coworkers should we become aware of a disability. This is especially true for invisible disabilities.
What We Can Do
When it comes to disability discrimination, there’s quite a bit that we can do individually. We know that disabilities are incredibly common in the US, which means it’s very likely you know someone with a disability. One of the places to start would be to make sure to remove casual insensitive comments from the way we talk—you never know who around you may suffer from an invisible disability (and it’s just not very nice). We can also make sure to get to know people beyond their disabilities and make space for them in our lives as friends, mentors, coworkers and more. When possible, try to ensure that you’re making reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities if you’re in the position to do so. It’s important to discuss issues privately, too.
On a larger scale, we all collectively need to work together to ensure that people with disabilities have what they need to live a fulfilling life. That may mean advocating for accommodations at events or becoming more knowledgeable about different communities.