Disability Defined: Understanding the Human Condition
with Maria Town of The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the United States. Disability — whether apparent or nonapparent — can impact anyone, of any age, at any time.
Maria Town, President and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities, shares how her organization is improving the lives of people with disabilities through political and economic advocacy.
Oct 07, 2019
Hyland: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one in four American adults lives with a disability -- from vision or hearing impairment, to mobility, intellectual, and non-apparent disabilities. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. Approximately 61 million Americans live with a physical or mental condition that impacts an activity in their daily lives. Joining me for a conversation on the challenges and opportunities within the disability community is Maria Town, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and, Maria, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers."
Town: Thank you so much for having me.
Hyland: That seems like a pretty big number. Approximately 61 million people in the U.S. living with a disability, but I think it's important to point out what we mean when we say disabilities.
Hyland: It's not just -- someone in a wheelchair. Talk about the broad spectrum of quote-unquote disabilities.
Town: So one of the most frequent questions I get asked in my job is, "What do you actually mean by disability?" Do you mean people in wheelchairs? Right? We think about the access symbol on parking spots -- when really disability is an incredibly diverse category, experience, identity. It includes everyone from people who have cancer to folks with chronic illnesses like Crohn's disease; people who are blind, as well as people who have recovered from substance abuse. It's an incredibly diverse group of people. And the numbers are going to continue to grow. You have a lot of people who talk about the silver tsunami -- the aging of the American population -- disability and aging go hand-in-hand. Disability is a natural part of the human condition. And so when you think about your 75 year old parent or grandparent who has significant hearing loss that's a disability -- they are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act around any discrimination. But they might not identify as having a disability, and I think that's important. Most of the time folks who will identify as having a disability are people who have had a lot of time to get used to it. Like myself -- I was born with a disability. But that doesn't mean that their experience or identity is any less important within the disability community.
Hyland: And here's another surprising number, too -- if you do live to the age of 70 I understand that you can expect to live with a disability for about eight years.
Town: That's right -- most people will experience disability at some point in their lives. And I like to think that if they're lucky enough, right? We all want to live long, vibrant lives, and that usually means that we will have one kind of disability or another. I like to think of disability as a mark of resiliency and survival -- it means we're still here.
Hyland: Right, good point. Are there certain pockets of the community or the population that are disproportionately affected by disabilities?
Town: Absolutely. So, disability occurs more frequently in women. It also occurs more frequently in communities of color and in particular disability and poverty go hand in hand. So poverty is both a cause and a consequence of disability, and so in communities that experience [higher rates of poverty, those same communities experience higher rates of disability.
Hyland: I also understand that children over the next few years, their disability rates are expected to rise as well -- why is that?
Town: That's right. So one reason is that medicine has advanced; children like me who are born premature, we're surviving well past birth and becoming adults. The other thing that's happened is as medicine has advanced [we've gotten better at diagnosing disabilities. Some people might think about that as a crisis. You know, "Oh, my gosh, we're going to have such higher rates of disabilities," when really a diagnosis for something like autism will give the individual and families the tools and supports that they need to navigate life.
Hyland: You have real positive outlook, which is terrific.
Hyland: What resources does AAPD offer to people with disabilities or those who have family members with disabilities?
Town: So AAPD is focused on protecting the civil rights and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. And we do that by building the political power of people with disabilities, and increasing the economic power of people with disabilities. One of the programs that's been our most successful is our D.C. summer internship program. Many youth with disabilities don't have the same kinds of opportunities as their peers without disabilities. They don't have a chance for summer internships or those first jobs as a babysitter or waiting tables. And so we have a competitive internship program here in D.C. that brings about 20 young leaders with disabilities and places them on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies. These internships are paid, they get professional development. And what we've seen over time is that these young people go on to run for office. They go on to run their own disability organizations or become leaders in their local communities and are able to break down barriers for other people.
Hyland: There are so many opportunities for young people old as well.
Hyland: Where can people go for more information?
Town: They can go to AAPD.com. They can also follow us on social media. handle is @AAPD.
Hyland: All right. Thank you so much, Maria, for being our guest today on "Comcast News."
Town: Thank you again for having me.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit Comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Sheila Hyland.
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