If you or someone you love is faced with a disabling illness or injury, you’ll most likely be taken by surprise. Having to deal with a disability is not something most people anticipate – or prepare for.
Learning to accept a new reality and make proper adjustments to your daily life are important steps in coping. It’s important to know what resources are available and find the people, programs and organizations that can help you.
1. Adapting to Daily Life
If you’ve developed a disability, you may need to make adjustments to your daily routine. Perhaps you have to find a new living arrangement or change jobs. Maybe you need to make structural changes to your home. An occupational therapist can help you with these changes. Community services and household help may also make the difference that enables you to continue living at home. Examples of help include:
- Housecleaning or yard services to help with chores
- Grocery delivery or meal services
- A home health aide to assist with personal grooming
- A visiting nurse to administer medications and monitor health
If you can no longer manage in your own home, your healthcare provider may suggest you consider a new living arrangement such as an assisted living, rehabilitation, or continuing care facility. For a list of accredited facilities, contact the American Health Care Association.
2. Sources of Financial Support
Many people with disabilities can continue to work with simple accommodations. Talk to your employer or see an occupational therapist. If you cannot continue in your present job, a vocational rehabilitation counselor may be able to help you prepare for an alternative job. Financial support is also available in other ways.
- Some employers provide disability income insurance as a benefit, or you can purchase a private policy. Disability insurance is designed to replace a portion of your income when an illness or injury prevents you from working.
- If you’re under 65 and your earnings are lost or reduced because of a disability, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI generally makes monthly payments to people who are aged, disabled or blind and who have limited income and resources.
- Medicare and Medicaid are two primary sources of federal medical assistance for people with disabilities. Medicare provides health coverage to individuals over 65 and people under age 65 who have been eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits for 24 months or who have severe kidney disease. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health services to people with low incomes. You may be eligible for Medicaid if you are receiving welfare benefits or SSI or are blind or disabled.
3. Understanding Your Rights
Section 504 is a federal law prohibiting discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities in programs and activities conducted or funded by the federal government. These activities include housing, education and transportation. Section 504 requires the provision of “reasonable accommodations” to allow persons with disabilities to participate in the federally conducted or assisted activities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law forbidding discrimination in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications and services provided by state and local governments. Generally, the protection provided by the ADA extends to:
- Those with a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities (working, learning, walking, seeing, speaking).
- Those who once had a disability but no longer have it (eg, cancer or heart disease).
- Those who are perceived as having a disability, even if they do not (eg, someone with severe facial scarring from burns).
- Those who do not have a disability but are discriminated against because they are associated with someone who does (eg, the spouse of a person who has emphysema or the parent of someone with AIDS).
If you or someone you know has developed a disability, acknowledge your limitations, but concentrate on what you can do and what you can adapt to do. Educate yourself with helpful resources, set realistic goals and approach life as a challenge, not an effort.