About Disabilities

July 12, 2005 at 10:50 am  •  Posted in Disabilities by  •  0 Comments

The Types of Disabilities
The Chance of Becoming Disabled Increases With Age
How Social Workers Can Help
Employment Issues
Government Statistics
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)



When you hear the term “disability,” you’re likely to conjure up images of people who struggle with every day activities, such as walking, preparing meals, or driving a car. You are also likely to think of handicapped parking areas, wheelchair ramps, and motorized scooters. This is only a tiny portion of the world of disabilities. Some people who are disabled bear no obvious signs of their condition. Among them are people who suffer from mental disorders, respiratory conditions or other internal illnesses or conditions, such as diabetes or Fibromyalgia.

If you or someone you love has a disability, take heart. You are far from alone in your struggles and concerns. About one in five Americans have some type of disability and one in 10 have a severe disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Types of Disabilities

Those who have difficulty performing certain functions – seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs, lifting or carrying – are considered to have a disability. Additionally, a person who has difficulty completing daily living tasks or struggles with certain social roles (doing school work for children and working at a job or around the house for adults) is considered disabled.

Someone who is unable to perform one or more activities or uses an assistive device such as a wheel chair to get around, or needs help from another person to bathe, dress, eat, or complete any other basic task is considered to have a severe disability.

A disability can also take the shape of a physiological disorder or condition, disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of these bodily systems – neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitor-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin or endocrine.

A disability can also be any mental of psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, as well as a specific learning disability.

The Chance of Becoming Disabled Increases With Age

The likelihood of having a disability increases with age, particularly after age 65. With the Baby Boomer population growing older substantially – in the year 2030, Americans over age 65 will comprise 20 percent of the total population, compared to about 12 percent now – we definitely expect to see a huge jump in the number of those living with a disability.

Whether your disability is the result of a recent injury, of if it is part of an ongoing, chronic condition, including a disability you’ve had since birth, it is a serious issue. Very likely, it impacts all areas of your life, from how your living space is arranged, to how you get around, and how you are treated in the work place.

Also, your disability profoundly affects your loved ones. In fact, about 9 million people of all ages in the U.S. have disabilities so severe they need personal assistance to carry out every day activities. About 80 percent of the people who take on the role of primary helper are relatives, and nearly half of those people live with the person with a disability.

Even the minutest tasks, ordinary things we take for granted, such as getting out of bed and dressing, can take on monumental significance for someone who is disabled or their family members.

How Social Workers Can Help

If you are newly disabled, and facing the world in a whole new light, you may benefit from the services a social worker can provide. You may be feeling angry, sad, or even despondent about your situation. A social worker can either offer you talk therapy or refer you to someone who specializes in your particular issue. They can also link you to a support group in your area, a safe place where you can share your concerns and frustrations with others in a similar predicament.

A social worker can make the same referral for your loved ones as well. They too may be struggling with the daily frustrations and challenges that come with having a relative with a disability. They may also crave the camaraderie and understanding that comes with a support group.

Likewise, you may not know where to turn for practical help, such as finding the best wheel chair for your apartment or learning if you qualify for certain benefits or services. A social worker can help you here, too.

Employment Issues

Surely, by now you have heard much about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. While the ADA’s main purpose is to outlaw workplace discrimination for people with a disability, it is also meant to increase the employment rate of those with a disability.

The ADA covers private employers with 15 or more employees. Other covered employers are state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions. Likewise, the ADA applies to you if you are qualified for the job you have, or the job you are seeking, and you have a disability.

Likewise, the ADA forbids discrimination in all employment practices, which include:

  • Recruiting
  • Advertising
  • Hiring
  • Job promotion
  • Wages and fringe benefits
  • Training
  • Firing or layoffs

If you’re not sure what’s meant by “qualified” or “disability,” or have any other questions, it’s important to check with the Job Accommodations Network (JAN) listed below. A social worker may also be able to link you to someone who can help you further interpret the law.

It is crucial to know, however, that you cannot be targeted or held back because of your disability.

Government Statistics

An estimated 34 to 43 million people in the U.S. have chronic disabilities.

  • Traffic accidents, violence, and falls are the leading causes of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, which are the two most severe disabling injury conditions.
  • Rehabilitation services are not consistently available throughout the U.S., nor are they financially accessible for everyone.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

The U. S. Department of Labor created JAN to assist both workers and employers. JAN is a free consulting service that provides personalized, case-by-case information about job accommodations and the ADA.  For more information go to www.jan.wvu.edu


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