Redefining Disability Challenge – Question 14

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.

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22 thoughts on “Redefining Disability Challenge – Question 14

  1. Those are some very disturbing statistics, Dee! I’m very glad you’re “above average” and that you’re out there making a difference to bring others to the same level.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! An attitude of gratitude for what we DO have going for us goes along way, as your words illustrate! 🙂

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  3. I love your posts. We were friends, first, before I knew your daily challenges. You make me realize again and again that we still have a long way to go in terms of access and inclusion, but underneath it all, we, as women, as people, are on the same journey. You’ve opened my eyes to this more than anyone else I know. Thank you.

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    • Wow! Thank you so much for those kind and humbling words. I agree – we are all on the journey together. And when we make it possible for others to have a more fulfilling and fruitful journey, we make it better for all involved. I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

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  4. Your post illustrates perfectly the link between economics, employment and quality of life. Greater employment and educational opportunities are extremely important, as you know. I hope you remain “above” the average because that is important for non-disabled people to see and understand if things are to continue changing for the better. Thanks for this post.

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    • Yes – they are all related. I know I have had many opportunities and more importantly – I was surrounded by those who believed in my ability to succeed. My goal is to help others believe in their abilities to do the same.

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  5. On my office door, for a long time now, a sticker says ‘Attitude is everything’ and this helps make the difference on days when I imagine I am below par. An appropriately positive and can do attitude doesn’t solve all problems but it sure helps in the process. The comment is a reminder that it is up to me to maintain my ‘average’ status whatever life throws at me.

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  6. This is wonderful! I have epilepsy and it has been debilitating in so many different ways. I could not agree more. Disabilities can control your life only if you allow them to. Sure, there are definitely certain aspects that are out of our control, but it’s so important to decide how you’re going to cope. And as you said in response to the comment above, that decision is the difference maker.

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  7. Thank you for another eye-opening post. Those are sobering statistics indeed. I am curious why you think that a population of highly educated people have such low employment statistics? I believe in a previous post you gave us some facts about how having too high of an income can have adverse effects on benefits. Does that factor in?

    I knew from the moment I “met” you here on WordPress that you were anything but average. I do believe, though, that would be the case with or without a disability because of your strong mindset. 🙂

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    • I do think there are many people with disabilities who do not work because of the impact too much income can have on their ability to maintain eligibility for benefits. And there are qualified job candidates with disabilities who face discrimination in hiring practices. Sometimes employers are hesitant to “take a chance” on employees who self-disclose or present with a disability.

      And you aren’t the first to say I am not “average” with or without the disability! I don’t know that others necessarily intend it as a compliment 😉

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