By David A. Nelson
Special to Frost Illustrated
Many years ago my father and I were talking about a new ramp that had just been installed in a county building near his house. He was upset. Always being one who could squeeze the ink out of a dollar bill, he saw no reason to spend money on a ramp. After all, he had never seen a person in a wheelchair at that county building.
I’m reminded of that conversation in the month of March—National Disability Awareness month. It did not occur to my father that perhaps people who couldn’t get into the county building would not go there. That was not a personal shortcoming. He simply didn’t have a lot of interaction with those who have disabilities, and he didn’t know what the face of disability looked like.
As I look back on that conversation, it seems appropriate for all of us to now ask: “What does disability look like?” For starters, we know that there are 78,444 people with disabilities living in northeast Indiana, and that 36,741 of these individuals (or 10.4 percent of the population) reside in Allen County alone. They are often the face of poverty with 24.8 percent of people who have disabilities living below poverty level. Many times, they are not working with 64 percent of those who have disabilities being unemployed. They are more than twice as likely to not have a high school diploma when compared to those who do not have disabilities, and only 7.8 percent of those who have disabilities go on to get a bachelor’s degree. And if nothing else, the face of disability is getting older as baby boomers acquire conditions such as vision and hearing loss, Alzheimer disease, heart disease, neuromuscular conditions and a host of other chronic conditions that come with age.
A number of years after our conversation, my father learned what disability looked like when he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. He found out that it was not “someone else.” He learned that it could be anyone including his neighbors, his friends, his fellow citizens, and yes, even himself. So during this month, let us all learn, as my father did, that the face of disability is changing—and it looks like us!
David A. Nelson is president and CEO of the League for the Blind & Disabled.