Elderly woman hugging young boy.

Isolation is the most disabling experience

When I was in my early 20s, I broke my ankle which required surgery. For the next six weeks I was housebound because I was disabled and unable to drive. If it hadn’t been for family and friends who carted me around during this time, I would have experienced social isolation.

From young to old, people with temporary or permanent disabilities and unable to drive are isolated from the outside world. They rely on people to either come to their home to deliver necessities or to drive them to appointments.

In recent years, inability to form social connections have been added to the definition of disability. This context is important in defining what are disabilities.  Because of the widening understanding of disability, the statistics reflect a growth in the population of families affected. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five people experiences a disability at some point in their lifetime. It is perhaps safe to say that at some point across the life span EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING will experience at least a temporary disability, either functional or cognitive, making them vulnerable to isolation.

Elderly woman hugging young boy.

Largest cause of disability is aging

As common sense would dictate, the aging process is the largest source of cause of a disability. 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.

Social connections become more sparse for people in this age range. As people age, reliable connections diminish because of friends and family members own decline and death. This adds to people’s isolation. Support and programs is delineated by age group and, consequently, forces families to piecemeal lifelong support for their loved one, especially as individuals succumb to the aging process.

Disability statistics

What disabilities are most isolating as it relates to social connection? Below are statistics about disabilities according to function.

  • About 8.1 million people had difficulty seeing, including 2.0 million who were blind or unable to see.
  • Nearly 7.6 million people experienced difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million whose difficulty was severe. About 5.6 million used a hearing aid.
  • Roughly 30.6 million had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker.
  • Almost 19.9 million people had difficulty lifting and grasping. This includes, for instance, trouble lifting an object like a bag of groceries, or grasping a glass or a pencil.
  • Difficulty with at least one activity of daily living was cited by 9.4 million non-institutionalized adults. These activities included getting around inside the home, bathing, dressing and eating. Of these people, 5 million needed the assistance of others to perform such an activity.
  • About 15.5 million adults had difficulties with one or more instrumental activities of daily living. These activities included doing housework, using the phone and preparing meals. Of these, nearly 12 million required assistance.
  • Approximately 2.4 million had Alzheimer’s disease, senility or dementia.
  • Being frequently depressed or anxious such that it interfered with ordinary activities was reported by 7.0 million adults.
  • Adults age 21 to 64 with disabilities had median monthly earnings of $1,961 compared with $2,724 for those with no disability. 
  • Overall, the uninsured rates for adults 15 to 64 were not statistically different by disability status: 21.0 percent for people with severe disabilities, 21.3 percent for those with nonsevere disabilities and 21.9 percent for those with no disability.

Self-advocacy important skill in ending isolation

Self-advocacy is a vital skill for all people to learn, and, perhaps, more so for someone who is reliant on the generosity and compassion of a society to offer access to activities and needs that are easily taken for granted by those who don’t have to fight for them.

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