Baby boomers beware

Disabled-Paper-Figure-5264557Some people may wonder why I blog about disability issues. The simple and most direct reason is that I once had an uncle with a profound intellectual disability. He had such a powerful healing effect on me that I wrote a book about him called My Father’s Eyes, due out later this year.

There are other reasons that I focus on this issue. As I’ve researched and studied the world that people with disabilities live in, I’ve become more and more concerned about their welfare.

And I’ve learned that there are an awful lot of folks who have some kind of physical or mental limitation. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 56.7 million Americans have a disability of some sort. That’s almost 20 percent of our population. That’s a lot of people.

Expand your definition of disability

When the Census Bureau puts out numbers like these, they are counting more than those who live their lives in wheelchairs or in institutions. They’re counting people who have visual and hearing impairments, intellectual and mental disabilities, and folks who use a cane or a walker and those who have difficulty dressing, managing their money and other activities.

Here’s my point. There are people with disabilities all around us. If we stop to think about what disability really means, then we realize that there are lots of people in our immediate vicinity who are counted as disabled by the Census Bureau.

There’s my friend with a mental illness. There’s my mother, who uses a walker and needs help pulling her medications together. There’s my yoga instructor, who has severe scoliosis but still manages to teach classes. There’s the 102-year-old lady at church who needs a hearing aid to hear the sermon.

We may all face disability

I would say that 20 percent of the population means disabilities are ubiquitous in our society. Yet, on the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we still have a long way to go before recognizing the impact of these numbers and addressing the needs of these folks.

Less than half of them of working age have jobs. About a third live in poverty. Many of them receive one or more kinds of government assistance, including access to health care, housing and social services. In 2008, the federal government spent $357 billion on programs and services for working age people with disabilities.

As the Census Bureau points out, the numbers are growing as the Baby Boom generation ages.

So here’s my final point. Not only does each of us probably know more than one person with a disability, odds are that we may join their ranks sometime in the future.

It behooves all of us to care about this population and to make sure their needs are met and that they have a chance to live healthy, productive lives.