Friday, April 3, 2015

Disability: It could happen to you

I was having lunch with a friend in a wheelchair not long ago. The place was crowded with people eating, drinking, talking, focused on whatever they were doing at the time,  far far away in their own little worlds. Suddenly he took a long look around the room and said, "How many of them would know what to do if they were struck with disability? They'd be lost". I think that was a fair point. Not to say look at us, we're so amazing, but we do have a lifetime of practice getting our bodies to work and bend to our will.  It does take a certain amount of skill not to mention determination to be as mobile as we both our today. It doesn't of course imply that our struggle is in any shape of form more unique or noteworthy than what other people deal with (and everybody deals with something), but I will give myself credit for "being me" and doing it well. As the discussion suddenly took a turn for the more gloomy and reflective, I thought of something else: How many of these people will be faced with a disability later in life and don't even know it. And it's not as simple as having a medical condition  or being of struggling health, but all those other things that having a disability involves. How people look at you. How you have a hard time getting around or even getting through the door. How there are sidewalk and ramps and stairs and wheelchair accessible bathrooms. How you may not worry about any of this today, but later in life it can become all so important. It's a bit different than with being part of most other minority group. You either are or aren't of particular race or gender. You either are born gay or straight. But with disability you can't ever say, this struggle is not about me and never will be, as our mobility decreases with age, it something we all may face. And while you  can think for example:" I can't relate to women's equality issues because I'm a man", or "I'm not feeling African-American struggles because I'm not black", think about what the following statistic means to you. According to the US Census Bureau " People in the oldest age group — 80 and older — were about eight times more likely to have a disability as those in the youngest group — younger than 15 (71 percent compared with 8 percent). The probability of having a severe disability is only one in 20 for those 15 to 24 while it is one in four for those 65 to 69. 71%! 1 in 4! I wouldn't wish disability on anybody of course and- as much as I love my life- it comes with its own set of challenges. But things change. Mobility changes. You can never say with any degree of certainty that this particular struggle will never be about you. If anything, you're more than likely to be affected by it in some shape of form. If not you directly- as we all age- than through a friend or a relative. That's why I think proper accessibility, empathy and respect for people with disabilities should be on everybody's mind- not only because considerate people should care about empowerment and inclusion, but also because you never know- one day you may be faced with those issues yourself. And wouldn't it feel good to know that somebody has your back and there are people who fight to have those resources ready. That's why I encourage people to familiarize themselves with the mission of a nonprofit I started, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation and how our programs use modern media, technology and education to make a difference. Spread the word, see how you can help and donate if you can, because there's a lot left to do and we're just getting started. Visit

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