I believe many in society do not realize disability affects everyone, including themselves. There is a saying “temporally abled, permanently disabled,” It is the truth which is often harsh. So, you may ask how disability affects you if yourself are not a person with a disability. The largest marginalized group in the world is the disability community. When access needs are taken into consideration and met for the disabled community, everyone benefits. You are probably asking “how?” Two examples that come to mind are curb cuts and elevators. Society intended curb cuts for individuals who use wheelchairs. However, they help people who are pushing strollers, drivers who are delivering packages, and people who are moving throughout their day. Elevators and escalators are accommodations for people with disabilities as well and everyone benefits. Another example… How many times has an automated door helped when your arms are full? Imagine trying to push a full shopping cart out of a normal swinging door—my point is that things we may or may not take for granted, exist because the disability community needed to navigate the world in a way that betters their lives and it turns out, it helps all of us.
Let’s talk numbers.
The World Bank puts about 15% of the world’s population as having a disability, which is roughly one billion people (World bank April 14, 2022). Because of Covid-19 and other factors, the number of people which are becoming disabled is rising. In the disability field, something well known is at some point a person is likely to experience some type of disability, if only temporally (i.e., breaking one’s bone). The chances of a disability event increase as an individual ages. This is one way disability affects everyone.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states 61 million adults in the USA live with a disability. About, 26% of Americans in the south have some type of disability. There are 6.2 million Canadians defined as having a disability. This is roughly 22% of the population 15 years and older. Currently, women with disabilities are being diagnosed at a higher rate, 24% compared to men at 20% (2017). Canada had a unique statistic: 71% of individuals who identify as a person with a disability reported having 2 or more types of disabilities. Only 29% of people had only one disability. The United States also broke down the statistic parts of the numbers for seniors, and 2 out of 5 are affected. In the US, 1 in 4 women have a disability. Not a shocking statistic because of racism and ableism and the history of these two, is that in that 2 in 5 non-Hispanic American Indigenous, Alaska Indigenous have a disability. This is the intertwinement of racism and ableism which cannot be separated.
There are many layers to the disability community, therefore it affects everyone. Just like every other marginalized group, we are not a monolith, nor do I speak for the “whole” disability community. I speak to my experiences and what I observed with over 20 years of work experience in the field, education, and personal experience. These layers, unfortunately, go unnoticed as the disability community is most often lumped together, which hides our unique diversity. There are many conditions that some individuals do not consider a disability. Which is often in the Chronic Illness category, but most Chronic Illness are constant or reoccurring flair-ups. In a “Public Opinion Poll on Chronic Illness in America By Kirzinger, Munana, and Brodie, found “6 in 10 say they or someone in their immediate family have a chronic health condition that requires ongoing medical treatment”, (Link below). In society, chronic illness is more seen as a sickness rather than a disability, and to some, invisible, where symptoms can be “multi-casual, unpredictable and unstable” states Ria Muherji in their article (Link below).
Mental illnesses are another category under disability and, depends on whom one talks to in the mental health community, it can be viewed either as a disability or not at all. Mental illness is moving slowly towards the way in which Canadians view it—as a disability (Link below). Negative stereotypes of disabled people in society are the reason for the divide. There are many quotes where the meaning is in the details, and this is where the truth lives. Let’s be honest: individuals are afraid of the unknown of those who are different. Expressed in the micro-aggressions of “I would rather be dead than disabled” or “I could not do what you do”. These are not unique statements. What does this say to someone of the disability community? “hey I rather be dead than in your shoes”. No wonder there is such a divide on who identifies as part of the Disability community, as it layers those with disabilities in silence or shame, all because of stigma and stereotypes. Individuals may avoid a diagnosis or won’t say they have a disability, or even ignore symptoms and signs that may indicate a mental illness and think they are fine.
The definition of disability is not static and has many components depending on where one looks. For instance, if one looks up the legal definition, it can be different depending on which law one looks up. Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has a different definition than the Social Securities Act. The legal definition differs from the medical definition that the medical establishment uses. When trying to look for the World Health’s definition of disability I found that in a few reports that there is no consistent approach or definition across countries around disability and that disability is complex, dynamic and multidimensional and contested. Even within the same country across disciplines classifications and measurements are different.
Whether one acknowledges that disability affects them, it does just based on sheer numbers. An interesting fact… wearing glasses is not looked at a disability anymore, but just something that is needed. Eye surgery in some states, consider cataracts surgery an elective. Do you think vision—an ability that allows a person to see near and far objects is elective? Is it not something that would affect everyday life? I write this because I want to give awareness to the sheer size of the disability community, to soften the stigmas and stereotypes. Let us get rid of the “world is not built for some people.” And create a world that is built for all of us… because as we have experienced, when people with disabilities’ access needs are considered, everyone wins.