Myths and Facts

There are approximately 49 million Americans with disabilities.  Yet, many people do not realize that the experience of disability is typical rather than rare. Nearly one-third of American families currently has a member with a disability, and most families experience this at some time.

Disability is a normal part of life. It affects people of all ages.  Thirty-one percent of those 65 or older experience disabilities, 10.7% are 18 or younger, and the majority (57.7%) are of working age.

Disability issues will not go away because people with disabilities are not going away. Increasingly, they are asserting their right to participate fully: in schools, in places of work, in business, and in community affairs.  Remember, none of us can exist alone. Eventually, disabled or not, nearly everyone will experience some level of dependence. Old age, injury, and illness are undiscriminating – acceptance and inclusion should be also.


Myth

Fact

People with disabilities are a small segment of the U.S. population.People with disabilities are the largest single minority group in the country. Disability cuts across ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic status.
Disability is an unusual, pathological condition.Disability is a normal part of life, experienced by almost everyone, particularly when they get older.
Disability affects other people’s families.Nearly three out of ten (29.2%) of American families include at least one member with a disability. Disability affects nearly all families at one time or another.
Disabilities begin at birth or in early childhood.Most people with disabilities have no disability for much of their lives. Only one-fifth (21%) of people with disabilities acquired their disability before age 20, while roughly half (53%) have onset after age 40.
Disability is purely a medical problem, to be treated by medical professionals in the hope of a cure.Disability is largely a social phenomenon best dealt with by enabling people with disabilities to lead independent lives.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has solved the problem of public facility accessibility and equal employment for people with disabilities.People with disabilities continue to face significant obstacles to accessibility, and employment, including architectural and physical barriers, communications, and attitudinal barriers.
Removing physical and social barriers benefits only a few people.Society loses whenever any individual is prevented from leaving home, traveling to work, or from carrying out everyday activities like shopping, going to the bank, or eating in a restaurant. People with disabilities-fully 15% of all Americans-have the same fundamental rights to independence and full participation in society as everyone else.
A person with a disability is “sick,” or has something wrong with them.Disability is a natural part of the human experience, and it is not the same as being sick. Individuals with disabilities have varying degrees of need, and are sometimes sick, just as non-disabled are sometimes sick. Mistaking a disability for sickness not only fails to respond to a person’s needs, it perpetuates a negative stereotype and an assumption that the person can and should be cured.
People with disabilities have a poor quality of life.This is one of the most common and damaging stereotypes, because it discourages social interactions and the development of mature relationships. People with disabilities have needs just like those who are non-disabled and they strive for a high degree of quality of life as do other individuals. Society handicaps individuals by building inaccessible schools, theaters, homes, buses, etc. The attitude that disability is a bad thing and that disability means a poor quality of life is often viewed as more disabling than the disability itself.
People with disabilities are inspirational, brave, and courageous for living successfully with their disability.A person with a disability is simply carrying out normal activities of living when they drive to work, go shopping, pay their bills, or compete in athletic events. Access to community based, long term service such as attendant care, access to buildings, public transportation, sidewalks, etc, access to quality health care, and necessary equipment enables them to carry on the same as non-disabled necessary equipment enables them to carry on the same as non-disabled people.
People with disabilities always need expensive and high-tech assistive devices or services.Simple inexpensive devices are often the most critical in helping people with a disability live independently. Assistive devices can be as affordable as an eating utensil or Velcro strap.
People with severe disabilities need to live in nursing homes or rehabilitation hospitals or under constant supervision so that they do not hurt themselves.Unfortunately, this myth has created a system of long term care in our nation that relies on institutions such as nursing homes and other facilities. Even those with the most severe disabilities could live in their own home given adequate community based service, and at the very least, they should be given that choice.

Myth and disability have a long history.  Myth is created by people as a way to perceive others and events. Visible members of the disability community are beginning to develop a new myth about disabilities. The new myth is very much the opposite of the old and negative myth. The new myth embraces the fact that people with disabilities are very capable, not to be viewed as a burden, and that they most certainly are not pitiful.  As disability culture produces more people capable of being considered as archetypes for a positive myth in connection with disability, then the number of positive images will grow, and negative myths and attitudes will fade.