Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge. This is my response to the fourteenth question in the Challenge. As usual, I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later in the Challenge.
Here is this week’s question:
Describe your baseline or an average day in relation to the ways your life is affected by disability.
I have described my daily routine in prior posts such as this one and this one and this guest post on the AbleBodies blog. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I would like to take some time to talk about what I consider average.
The truth is, take away my wheelchair and my need for personal assistance, and I suspect my day is much like any other professional woman in her early 40’s. I get up, go to work, volunteer in my community, prepare food, complete my daily writing, pay my bills, waste time on social media and repeat it all the next day.
I wish I could tell you my average was more exciting. I wish I could tell you I always get to be “line leader” on the commute to and from work so I never sit in traffic. I wish I could tell you I am routinely surprised by flower deliveries from eligible men.
But my average is, well, average. Not much different from my peers who do not use wheelchairs.
I think that fact is wonderful! Particularly if you compare my average to the average of my peers who are disabled.
I have quoted disability statistics in other posts, but they are worth repeating here. In the United States, the percentage of non-institutionalized working-age persons with a disability who are employed full time for a full year is approximately 20%. According to the American Community Survey results listed on www.disabilitystatistics.org, 12.4% of the non-institutionalized working-age population of persons with a disability in the United States have attained an educational level of a bachelor degree or higher.
You can find recent public health statistics related to disability in the United States on the Disability and Health Data System website. This site, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides access to state-level disability-specific health data. A quick glance at the information for my state, New York, told me:
- 35.7% of adults with disabilities are obese (vs. 20.2% of non-disabled adults)
- 27.2% of adults with disabilities smoke cigarettes (vs. 14.0% of non-disabled adults)
- 75.5% of adults with disabilities have had a mammogram within the past 2 years (vs. 82.8% of non-disabled adults)
- 26.0% of adults with disabilities could not see a doctor due to cost in the past twelve months (vs. 12.8% of non-disabled adults)
- 37.2% of adults with disabilities have had depression (vs. 9.4% of non-disabled adults)
If you compare my average to the national and statewide experience for people with disabilities, you will find I am above average on many measures. I am employed full time, a status I have maintained since completing my Masters degree nineteen years ago. I do not smoke. I am not obese. I do not live below the poverty level. Cost has not prevented me from accessing medical care. I do not live with depression.
I share those things not to brag, but to remind myself, and my readers, of the variation in the disability experience. When I am out in the community for work, or writing about disability, I am conscious my reality is not the reality experienced by others who live with disability.
Perhaps since the temporarily nondisabled don’t have exposure to people with disability who are statistical outliers, they find my average remarkable.
But when I read those statistics I get angry. I don’t want to be an outlier. I want to be “average” for more than myself. I want all people with disabilities to have the same advantages and opportunities I have. I dream of a day when my “average” is truly average for them.