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Study: Many Adults With Disabilities Do Nothing All Day

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Yesterday I discovered an unsettling but not unsurprising study about adults with disabilities. A survey of about 800 siblings of adults with disabilities reveals that about 13% of disabled adults have nothing to do with their time–no job, no educational activity, and no form of recreation.

Now, numbers can be misleading and our brains are trained to interpret data in a certain way. So if your first reaction to this information was to say, “13%? That’s not so bad!” then I don’t fault you. To be honest, that was my first impulse too.

However, 13% of 800 is 104 people. That’s a significant number. If the percentage holds true across the board (and it probably doesn’t–given the demographic of the siblings surveyed, the percentage is most likely a lot higher), then here’s the breakdown:

  • There are 6.2 to 7.5 million people with cognitive disabilities in the United States, so:
  • There are 800,600 to 975,000 disabled adults just sitting around all day, unenriched, unfulfilled, and most likely quite depressed.

Again, I’d wager to guess that the numbers are even more dire than these findings reveal. The siblings who were surveyed were wealthier and more educated than the general population as a whole, meaning they’re more likely to have the means to find outlets for their disabled loved ones.

But even having the means won’t do a damn thing if the outlets don’t exist in the first place. My parents are pitch-perfect examples of people who provide their disabled daughter with a happy, fulfilling life–but even they worry about what Martha is going to do with her time when she graduates from the Transition House (part of her local special education program–instead of going to school all day, she goes to a house for disabled students up to the age of 21 that teaches basic life skills). Although Martha is happy and social and would be a wonderful asset to any organization, her cognitive abilities are such that even Goodwill can’t offer her a job. Finding recreational, social, and educational opportunities for disabled adults is a full-time job (usually falling to parents or other family members) that takes tenacity and creativity.

I see this as a fundamental human rights issue. The Declaration of Independence’s “right to the pursuit of happiness” is one of the most influential phrases in U.S. history. Anyone who has ever felt isolated or bored can tell you that an absence of meaning and purpose is one of the most horrible, defeating, and depressing feelings in the world. But our society is simply not set up in a way that allows many disabled adults to pursue happiness.

There is a disabled man who sits in front of my apartment complex’s mailboxes all day, every day. He is always there unless it’s too hot or too cold, at which point I imagine he sits in his apartment. You’d be amazed at the degree to which he lights up every time I’m out walking my dog; I always say hi to him and ask if he wants to pet the dog. I’ve never seen anyone else in my apartment complex speak to him.

Widespread change is going to take a lot of effort; in the meantime, if you pass a person like that man every day, just have a conversation with him. It could be the most stimulating thing he does all day.

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6 responses »

  1. HEY I AM A DISABLED VETERAN FROM THE VIET NAM WAR ! THERE IS ONLY A FEW THINGS I CAN DO , BUT I LOVE CHAIR VOLLYBALL , WHERE YOU GET ABOUT 2 HOURS A DAY USING YOUR ARMS A LOT ! WE USE A BEACHBALL TO HIT OVER A NET , I MYSELF AM KNOWN AS THE OCTOPUS BECAUSE I REACH FOR THE BALL A LOT , AND IF I KNOCK IT OUT OF BOUNDS , SOME PEOPLE GRIPE AT ME , AND I JUST TELL THEM ” ARE YOU PERFECT ? ” AND THEY SHUT THEIR MOUTHS !

    BUT I HAVE A BLAST AT PLAYING THE GAME ! IT IS A STRENEOUS WORKOUT FOR THE UPPER BODY ! ALSO I USE A WALKER WITH WHEELS THAT I CAN ACTUALLY SIT ON , I USE IT SITTING MOST OF THE TIME , I ALSO REALLY CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE ZUMBA CLASSES BUT I HAVE TO MAINTAIN MY LEGS MOVEMENT , THEY ARE SWOLLEN BECAUSE OF MY CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE ! I HAVE HAD 2 HEART ATTACKS , AND NO I HAVE NOT CHANGED MY DIET , WHICH I SHOULD OF HAVE DONE A LONG TIME AGO !

    I ALSO HATE SUBWAY SANDWICHES THEY SUCK ! THE YWCA OFFERS CLASSES FOR 1 DOLLAR A day , BUT IT’S JUST TOO DAMN FAR TO DRIVE TO GET THERE ! AND WITH OBAMA CUTTING SENIOR SERVICES , AND VETERANS BENEFITS , WHICH WE CANNOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT , TIMES WILL GET TOUGHER ! THAT’S WHY I HAVE A SUICIDE BRACELET THAT I WEAR ALL THE TIME SO I CAN CALL THEM AND TALK TO SOMEBODY ! PLUS I SURF THE INTERNET A LOT ALSO !

    GOOD LUCK EVERYBODY IN YOUR FUTURE ENDEAVORS ! THEY ARE TOUGH AND ROUGH , BUT TALK TO THE BOSS UPSTAIRS AND HE’LL GIVE YOU SOME POSITIVE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT AND EVEN DO ! THAT’S GOD IN HEAVEN I AM TALKING ABOUT ! IF YOU ARE AN ATHEIST ? REMEMBER THEY HAVE FOUND NOAHS ARK , AND THE WASTED CITY OF SODOM AND GOMMORAH , AND THE WALLS OF JERICO THAT FELL DOWN AND HUST RECENTLY THE FOUND WHEELS TO THE CHARIOT OF THE PHAROAH IN THE RED SEA , SO THAT TOLD ME THE AND THE REST OF THE WORLD THAT GOD DOES EXIST ! SO TAKE YOUR UNBELIEF AND THROW IT IN A TRASH CAN !

    Reply
  2. My wife works for a nonprofit called “Easter Seals.” Where they got the name, I don’t know. But, what they do is positively occupy the time of disabled adults. My wife “coaches” this lady with cerebral palsy. They just do a bunch of fun stuff all day: paint, go to the zoo, play games, etc. I LOVE that my wife is involved with a nonprofit helping disabled people.

    Reply
    • There’s an Easter Seals in Austin that I’ve been trying to connect up with–I think we could form a pretty cool partnership. We could send our clients to each other and they’d have even fuller days! I’m so glad your wife is helping out this nonprofit.

      Reply
  3. You go, Girl! I love the idea of integrating people with special needs into the community. Ask anyone who has a relationship, no matter how platonic, with a person with special needs, and you will hear what a blessing these people are in their lives, how much they have taught them, etc. But we have to think bigger than just finding these people a place to live. We’ve got to think outside of the box and either plug them in to where they operate best, even if that means creating new outlets. Wow, that was profound, eh?
    Anyway, God bless you for the work you’re doing.

    Alyson

    Reply
    • Thank you for your words of encouragement! I read about your son; Down Syndrome/apraxia of speech is quite a journey. It’s so great to see you and your family embracing it with such a positive spirit.

      And I agree–everyone has a place in society in which they can operate best; sometimes we just have to help each other find those places.

      Reply

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