The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. The first Disability Pride Parade was held in Boston that same year. Since then, the disabled community has continued coming together to petition for their rights. Lack of understanding and acceptance of disability (and for some people, the reluctance to even use the word) paints the picture that disability is considered something wrong. During Disability Pride Month, we want to join in the discussion and help bring awareness to what disability is, the types of disability, tips for managing a new disability, and some of our hospital’s rehabilitation services.
What is a disability?
1 in 4 people in the U.S. are affected by a disability—nearly 67 million people. Worldwide, over 1 billion people are disabled. However, the language around disability for the majority of non-disabled people is lacking in both knowledge and empathy. So, how is disability defined? In short, disability is any condition that complicates performing specific actions or interacting with the world. There are many types of disabilities—both visible and invisible—that can affect someone’s ability to:
Some disabilities impact a person’s social relationships and mental health, which significantly affects their lives and well-being as a whole. The disability community is incredibly diverse. There are a few dimensions of disability that the World Health Organization recognizes.
Impairment in a person’s body structure, such as limb or memory loss.
Activity Limitation: caused by difficulties in sensory perception or cognition.
Participation restrictions: difficulties performing everyday activities, like working and engaging socially with others.
There are other factors, besides being born with them or having a predisposition, that can manifest disabilities, such as an accident, or symptoms from an entirely different medical diagnosis. A sudden car accident, the onset of Alzheimer’s, or having a stroke can lead to developing a disability. Understanding what disability is can help lead to a better understanding of friends, family, and coworkers who may be experiencing an impairment, limitation, or restriction.
Invisible and visible disabilities
Disabilities come in many forms, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all narrative. While most people may think of easily recognizable disabilities first when considering disability, many are under the surface. They may not be identifiable by people outside the individual who has them. Neurodivergences, loss of senses, and muscular or orthopedic injuries that don’t require the use of a mobility aid or cause a difference in gait are all examples of potential disabilities that fall into the “invisible” category. Some more specific examples include:
Epilepsy and other neurological disorders
Arthritis and other bone and joint disorders
Dyslexia and other learning disabilities
Schizophrenia, depression, and other mental health conditions
And many others
Invisible disabilities are ones that you can’t see. These types can lead to social or work-related issues as others can’t always read them. In the case of neurodivergence, stigma is attached to its effects that can impact someone’s behavior. Other invisible disabilities can include neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, which can restrict a person’s activities, such as seeing certain movies or going to places with flashing lights, among other things.
While you may not be able to see a person’s disability, that doesn’t mean they don’t have it. It’s essential to ensure accessibility for people with all types of disabilities. Extending humankindness includes being sure to understand the different walks of life people are in and supporting them.
Managing a new disability
Anyone can develop a disability, through an accident, a medical condition, or the process of aging. That being said, developing a disability is a life-changing event. As a previously non-disabled person, accessibility will come to the forefront of your everyday life. You might not be able to do everything you used to. It can be a difficult transition to living with a disability. But, by learning to accept your disability, you can find ways to live a fulfilling and happy life.
Allow yourself time to grieve. Don’t suppress your feelings. Be open to yourself and the people around you about how you’re feeling. Remember that you can build a happy and meaningful life with a disability. You may have to alter your plans or goals, but by no means does a disability mean you won’t be able to find happiness and fulfillment in your life.
Reach out to support groups. They can help you find a community of people who understand what you’re going through and can advise you. Support groups will help you move on from lingering on what you can’t do, to finding new things you can do.
Make sure to learn about your disability. Understanding what your disability is will help you to find the things you can do and give yourself more clarity. By knowing what your disability entails, you can be your own advocate and ask for what you need in your relationships, at work, or school.
Be patient. Have patience with yourself and others. It’s a big adjustment to have a disability, and it may take time to recover and figure out how to do different activities again. There can also be an adjustment for your loved ones as they try to find ways to help you. Patience is key to ensuring you don’t get too down on yourself.
If you feel like you may be dealing with a disability, seeing your primary care doctor is an excellent way to know what type of rehabilitation you need. Going to a rehabilitation center can help you readjust to your life after a disability or help you manage your current disability. At St. Joseph Health, we offer robust rehabilitative services in a variety of areas, such as:
We believe in caring for a person holistically—body, mind, and spirit—to aid you in whatever ways you need for your rehabilitative journey.
Disability and Health Overview | CDC
Chances of Disability | Council for Disability Awareness