When able-bodied people think about the lives of people with disabilities, they often see the disability first and consider only the practical challenges, such as how to navigate with a wheelchair. What they don’t often see are the many social difficulties we deal with when it comes to disability-related challenges. From healthcare access to the pain not obviously visible, these social challenges impact many lives.
Challenges with Employment and Disability Benefits
If you’re living with a disability and are unable to work, applying for disability coverage is not a simple process. Disability benefits pay an average of $1,234 per month in the United States and take years to obtain. Almost every application is denied on the first try, and usually it takes a disability lawyer to win a case.
The process also includes medical evaluations and limited income while the applicant waits for approval. If a disability applicant doesn’t have another source of income, this puts them in an even more difficult position.
What do you live on while you wait? If you’re making over $1,220 per month, the government will not consider you disabled for the purposes of Social Security — no matter what your doctor says. This results in some people with disabilities working full-time, their off-work hours being used for medical appointments and rest and recovery only.
Whether you can work is only part of the puzzle: 70% of working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed, despite many wanting to work.
Additionally, the social guilt from accepting disability benefits can feel unbearable, as the common misperception is that people who use disability benefits are committing fraud. If able-bodied critics knew what it was really like to go through the process of obtaining benefits, they might think otherwise.
Lack of Healthcare Access
When you think about someone with major health issues, you probably assume they go to the doctor often. It’s likely that they need to see doctors regularly, but how many of us with chronic health issues and disabilities actually do? Alarming facts reveal that people with disabilities are not getting the care that they need:
- One in three 18-44 year olds with disabilities doesn’t have a regular healthcare provider and has their medical challenges and needs unmet due to cost.
- A quarter of adults with disabilities age 45-64 haven’t had a checkup in the last year.
- People with vision-related disabilities have the least healthcare access among any group of people with disabilities.
With one in four Americans dealing with a disability, it’s surprising that disabilities and mobility aids aren’t normalized.
Additionally, most healthcare plans (even the expensive ones) aren’t designed for people living with disabilities and chronic conditions. As an example, many diseases and disorders require routine blood work, but some of the most popular healthcare plans do not cover diagnostics (including blood tests) at all. Health insurances also do not typically cover the costs of mobilty vehicles. While benefits including low copays help all patients, including those with disabilities, it’s small comfort compared to plans designed for able-bodied individuals only.
Able-Bodied People Lack Awareness of Invisible Illnesses
Have you ever seen an ambulatory person get out of a car after they park in a handicapped spot? Not every disability means using visible assistive devices like wheelchairs. Many patients’ doctors encourage them to stand up and walk around if they are able to do so. Medical conditions also occur in different stages, and some diseases have flares that make them worse for a certain amount of time.
Those who suffer from autoimmune diseases are particularly well-acquainted with this topic. While it may look like everything’s fine on the outside, there’s a lot going on within. It’s kind of like having a headache. Often, it’s impossible to tell when a person’s having one unless they say so or indicate they’re in pain by massaging their temples.
Since the pain isn’t visible, others accuse those living with invisible illnesses of faking it or being intentionally flaky with plans. In reality, invisible illnesses and their flare-ups are difficult to predict and often result in fatigue. This can result in further stress, which aggravates most conditions.
Technology generally makes life easier for everyone, especially when it comes to communication. For people with disabilities, innovative technology may provide work at home benefits and greater social interaction. This can mean everything to someone who is housebound, or who requires assistance leaving the home.
Most people know about the American Disabilities Act (ADA), requiring accessible solutions to most public buildings. As much of our interactions now take place online, it’s also important to enforce ADA compliance on websites:
- Can visitors with visual impairments read the screen with a screen reader (if applicable) and navigate the website?
- Do alternative image (alt tags) exist to provide information about images to those who can’t see them?
- Can users zoom and increase the size of the text on the site?
- Are there audio transcripts available for users who have difficulty hearing?
These features are especially important considering how many people pay their bills online, make medical appointments or use websites to order health and wellness supplies. Due to the number of adaptability devices available, technology should be a source of freedom and independence for people with disabilities.
Being in Limbo Regarding Treatment Options
A decade ago, doctors commonly prescribed opioids to help pain patients, including many with disabilities. Now, the very real opioid crisis has created an all-out war on opioids. Patients report major restrictions on filled prescriptions and medical professionals who refuse to treat their pain.
For people living with disabilities, getting to the pharmacy every three days for a restricted prescription is not practical, especially when you consider other obligations like work and school. Instead, patients and their doctors turn to medical marijuana, but there are still setbacks in legalities concerning its use (depending on the state), leaving some pain patients waiting for options. Setbacks include the state’s failure to estimate how many medical marijuana applicants they’ll have, businesses trying to misreport and sabotage one another, and the slow and confusing pace of new legislation.
Dealing with each of these issues is difficult, but the hardest part about it is that we face multiple issues like this every day. With a little understanding of the social challenges we face, able-bodied allies can advocate for better options for employment, healthcare access, and disability benefits and change the conversation about people with disabilities for the better.
Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/EHil9yGtKak