Social isolation due to disability is most certainly not a new issue for many people with disabilities. While the ADA has increased the accessibility of a number of buildings in America for us, there are vast numbers of buildings that remain inaccessible because they do not fall within the years covered by the ADA. The ADA is only one part of the issue involving social isolation of people with disabilities; there are many other issues involved...
Imagine, if you will, that you are a person who uses a walker, a wheelchair, or another form of adaptive equipment who has experienced a fall. Such a person might have been using a walker or a wheelchair for any number of reasons, yet the fall they experienced might have left them with anything from broken bones in their arms or legs to stitches or more. Where this person might have been able to ride a para-transit bus or access an ADA accessible building before, they might now find themselves isolated at home because they can no longer use their walker or wheelchair.
Allow me to speak from a rather personal perspective for a moment, if you will.
A hearing impairment such as the one I experience is not comparable to complete deafness. It is; however, enough to find me experiencing things such as tinnitus. Sporadically, my ears suddenly ring loudly and then well, 'fog up,' entirely before returning to a clearer hearing state that is still impaired. I hear background noise more clearly than the voices of others. Even things such as a television or the radio have become difficult to distinguish over the traffic outside. The results have been a noticeable move towards exploration of my own mind while tending to avoid others who I have difficulty hearing; something I do not always consciously choose to do.
A great many people find themselves experiencing similar hearing impairments, explaining why major corporations and the Veterans Administration produce hearing aids by the thousands. There are even color choices for hearing aids now, making them more stylish.
The fact remains that while so many people wait for these hearing aids, or cannot afford them, they find themselves more isolated from others and society. American Sign Language is not a standard language taught in public schools and is not common knowledge. Subtitles on televisions are not enabled by default, and radio stations do not come with them at all. The clerks at stores are surprised when I tell them I have trouble hearing them, and ask them to speak a little louder, please.
People with Disabilities experience the highest rate of unemployment in America, a fact that is well-known. A large number of us are also on programs such as SSDI or SSI. In other words, we are certainly not wealthy; we are not even financially, 'comfortable,' enough to have six months of money set aside in case of trouble. Many of us struggle to make it through the month financially; having to choose between medications we need and food to eat in some cases.
How are we supposed to participate in a society that requires money to do anything at all? If you want to go to a movie with a friend it costs money for:
If you want to go out to dinner with a friend it costs even more.
Heaven forbid you decide to go to an amusement park, it costs a fortune.
Where is the money supposed to come from when you live on an SSI budget?
The isolation imposed by a disability income is more than just tough.
Chronic pain and living with it finds me taking a couple of medications to live with it. One of them is actually a medication I have taken to control epilepsy in the past - Neurontin. The other is Tramadol. Between the two of them, I find myself feeling rather dopey at times, so I try to be strict about the amount of these medications I take. With arthritis in my feet, ankles, and knees (and apparently elsewhere), there is no denying the need for these medications, unfortunately. If I choose not to take these medications, the pain levels I experience is intolerable.
There are vast numbers of people with disabilities who face similar situations, having to choose between taking medications with sedative side-effects or dealing with pain. We don't go out dancing; we don't run down the hallway in the shopping malls. Some of us have trouble getting around a store with cement floors for an hour and then taking our food into our homes. By the time we are done, where is the strength and will to socialize
All of the above can make a non-disabled person read this and think, 'Geez - what a bunch of killjoy's.' There are also all of the stigma's that have been around for far too long related to People with Disabilities to deal with. The fact of the matter is - we as People with Disabilities are neither, 'killjoy's,' or any of the stigmatizing nonsense that non-disabled persons dump on us.
I suggest that we, as People with Disabilities, many times know our limitations more than non-disabled persons. We know what we are capable of and what we are not. What this sounds like to me is that our disabilities have helped us to reach mature adulthood, something so many non-disabled persons apparently lack. While many people without disabilities party all night long and then drag themselves to work in the morning looking like dirt, People with Disabilities know when to quit and show up ready to do a good job.
We are also good company.
The one's who go out and party all night long are usually the people who wind up in trouble, from my experiences in the past. People who know their limitations are people who make the best company; they also tend to be the friendliest and easiest to get along with. People with Disabilities, in other words, are often times some of the best people to know.