How to live with disabilities

Disability is especially common in these groups, older adults, women and minorites.

  • 2 in 5 adults age 65 years and older have a disability
  • 1 in 4 women have a disability.
  • 2 in 5 non-Hispanic American Indians/ Alaska Natives have a disability.

Disability and Health

Adults living with disabilities are more likely to be obese, smoke, have heart disease and diabetes:

  • 38.2 percent of adults with a disability are obese while 26.2 percent of adults without a disability are obese.
  • 28.2 percent of adults with a disability smoke while 13.4 percent of adults without a disability smoke.
  • 11.5 percent of adults with a disability have heart disease while 3.8 percent of adults without a disability have heart disease.
  • 16.3 percent of adults with a disability have diabetes while 7.2 percent of adults with a disability have diabetes.

Disability and Health Care Access

Health care access barriers for working-age adults include

  • 1 in 3 adults with disabilities 18 to 44 years do not have a usual health care provider
  • 1 in 3 adults with disabilities 18 to 44 years have an unmet health care need because of cost in the past year
  • 1 in 4 adults with disabilities 45 to 64 years did not have a routine check-up in the past year

Making a difference

Public health is for all of us.

Join CDC and its partners as we work together to improve the health of people living with disabilities.
CDC and its partners work together to improve the lives of people with disabilities by:

  • Promoting healthy living,
  • Monitoring public health data
  • Researching and reducing health disparities
  • Building inclusive health program
  • Improving access to health care.

Brought to you by the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Find information about health care coverage including Medicare and Medicaid. Also, learn about workplace disability insurance, compensation benefits for disabled veterans and Social Security benefits for people with disabilities.

On This Page

  • Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance
  • Social Security Benefits for People with Disabilities
  • Health Insurance and Health Resources for People with Disabilities
  • VA Disability Compensation Benefits

Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance

If you can't work because you are sick or injured, disability insurance will pay part of your income. You may be able to get insurance through your employer. You can also buy your own policy.

Types of Disability Policies

There are two types of disability policies.

Short-term policies may pay for up to two years. Most last for a few months to a year.

Long-term policies may pay benefits for a few years or until the disability ends.

Employers who offer coverage may provide short-term coverage, long-term coverage, or both.

If you plan to buy your own policy, shop around and ask:

How is disability defined?

When do benefits begin?

How long do benefits last?

How much money will the policy pay?

Federal Disability Programs

Two Social Security Administration programs pay benefits to people with disabilities. Learn about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI).

Social Security Benefits for People with Disabilities

If you have a disability, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income may help financially. To find out if you’re eligible for either program, use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.

Definition of Disability

To qualify for either program, you must meet SSA’s definition of disability:

Your disability is expected to last for at least one year or result in death

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for people who have become disabled after earning enough Social Security work credits within a certain time.

How to Apply for SSDI

If your application is approved, you’ll have a five-month waiting period for benefits to start.

If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for people with disabilities or who are 65 or older with little to no income and resources. SSI is not Social Security. Although the names sound similar and the Social Security Administration runs the program, it does not fund SSI.

How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Adults can apply for SSI by phone, in person at a local Social Security office, or in some cases online. To apply for SSI for a child, you can start the process online but will need to complete it either in person or by phone.

You can appeal If your application is denied.

Explore a listing of SSI topics to learn more detailed information.

Working While Receiving SSDI or SSI

Whether you receive SSDI or SSI, you may be able to work without it impacting your benefits if you earn less than a certain amount. You can find all the details in the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.

Health Insurance and Health Resources for People with Disabilities

Find information about health insurance and resources for people with disabilities.

Health Coverage for People With Disabilities

If you have a disability, you have three options for health coverage through the government.

Medicaid provides free or low-cost medical benefits to people with disabilities. Learn about eligibility and how to apply.

Medicare provides medical health insurance to people under 65 with certain disabilities and any age with end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant). Learn about eligibility, how to apply and coverage.

Affordable Care Act Marketplace offers options to people who have a disability, don’t qualify for disability benefits, and need health coverage. Learn about the Marketplace, how to enroll, and use your coverage.

Health Resources for People With Disabilities

Federal, state, and local government agencies and programs can help with your health needs if you have a disability.

Explore the Disability and Health section of CDC.gov for articles, programs, tips for healthy living and more.

Learn more about benefits for people with disabilities from the Social Security Administration.

Contact your local city or county government to find out what medical and health services are available locally for people with disabilities.

Your state social service agency can help you locate medical and health programs.

Visit USA.gov’s Government Benefits page to learn more about government programs and services that can help you and your family.

VA Disability Compensation Benefits

Veterans who have a service-related injury or illness may be entitled to VA disability compensation. It’s a tax-free monthly benefit.

Visit VA.gov to learn:

Which conditions qualify you for benefits

How the claims process works

Where to file your claim

How to appeal a decision you disagree with. The process changed in February 2019.

Survivors of veterans may receive compensation benefits in certain situations.

Do you have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They’ll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

People with disabilities have always been a part of society, but they were not always accepted and looked after like we do now. Social constructs and ways of thinking have framed the views of society and therefore how people with disabilities were treated. These constructs and ideas of what disability is still frame our society and thinking today.

Reading about the history of learning disabilities, it is interesting – and quite shocking really – to learn about the treatment people with disabilities, either mental or physical, have been given through the centuries.

Babylonians would look at babies born with disabilities as good predictors of the future; Romans would drown disabled babies; Greeks were the first ones to talk about eugenics, they also thought that those born deaf couldn’t think rationally. In Old Testament times, disability was linked to sin, nevertheless those born with disabilities were protected and people were taught to treat them kindly. In the New Testament, it became a source of miracles when Jesus healed the disabled.

Aztecs and Europeans (1100s) would display the disabled in zoos. In the 1300s, disabled people in England depended on charity for their survival. Those suffering with mental health were labelled “lunatics” and confined to facilities and seen as entertainment for visitors.

In the 1400s, the Church allows the murder of those with disabilities, and a few years later witch hunts begin, causing the death of many women who were disabled or struggling with mental health problems.

In the 1800s, disability is portrayed as weak and pathetic in works like A Christmas Carol (Tiny Tim), and there is also an attempt to institutionalise disabled children for life. The 1900s sees eugenics and institutionalisation to be the norm. The Mental Deficiency Act categorises those with learning and mental health issues as idiots, imbeciles, and more. Unmarried mothers were included in this category. In 1935 and throughout the second world war, euthanasia of disabled people, and “mercy killings” ordered by Hitler, were widespread.

In the 1960s, a soap character becomes a wheelchair user, and in 1992, a disabled actor stars in a soap opera on the BBC. In 2012, Paralympic Games are held in the UK.

Looking back to what has been the treatment of people with disabilities through the ages, even in the early 1900s, it is clear to see that difference has always been stigmatised in societies far and wide. Not only stigmatised, sometimes even demonised!

There are many aspects of the treatment of those with disabilities that are shameful to think about, and without wanting to justify them, they were different times and knowledge wasn’t what it is now.

It is very unfortunate for those with disabilities, the atrocious things they had to deal with, and unfortunately it seems like we have repeated ill treatment even in recent decades.

In addition, and I don’t want to get political about this, but it is a fact, that those with disabilities are seeing major cuts to the services and benefits they receive, which means that they have less access to those things that they have a right to access – activities in the community, services, and general things that those of us without disabilities might take for granted.

I work with people with disabilities, and when out in the community, I can still see that stigma and stereotyping is still around. Of course, it is much less than in past centuries, and there is more information available and more understanding of behaviours and the different visible and invisible disabilities out there.

More compassion, information and understanding will make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities, and having equal access to everything that everyone else has access to will enrich the lives and the communities where they live.

After reading this article, I leave you with the following questions:

Do you think we have moved forward in regard to how we treat and think about people with disabilities?

How can we add on to the work that’s brought us to where we are today?

What can you do to enrich your life, your community and the life of someone with disabilities?

Joel Desotelle, licensed pediatric occupational therapist and program director of Keystone Pediatric Therapies in Chambersburg, wants the public understand that everyone has value in our community, even those who live with a disability.

Living Up To Standards

In our society, we tend to put individuals with tremendous talent and ability up on a pedestal. At the same time, we often compare ourselves, our children, and others to some unspoken standard. For individuals who live with a disability, such as cognitive or physical challenges, our attention is easily drawn to what these individuals cannot do or even some of the side effects like behaviors commonly seen in a child with autism. Whether gifted or challenged, we are all different and have a purpose in our community.

Ability vs. Disability

Living with a disability can be very challenging. The difficulties a disability presents each day often demand our attention and resources, and so it is easy to focus on an individual’s disability because they stand out. But each individual also has many abilities as well as untapped potential. I have witnessed children with profound cognitive deficits draw amazing pictures, sing like an angel, remember details that would challenge any of us, love their family unconditionally, and so much more. Yes there are challenges, but if our focus is on what these individuals cannot do, it is easy to miss out on what they can do. Furthermore, by seeing people as abled vs. disabled, we rightfully offer each person the dignity they deserve.

Alienation

I work with many families who struggle to go out into the community. They are fearful of what others may think or how to cope with an environment that is overly stimulating and/or not designed for individuals with disabilities. This can leave families staying at home and isolated. These aren’t just fears; I hear stories every day of people staring, criticizing, pointing, and even asking people to leave. Whether a business, an organization or just someone out in the community at a restaurant or shopping, everyone needs to do their part to embrace these challenges and accept those individuals whose lives are enriched by being able to participate in the community without judgment or criticism.

Seek Understanding

Many disabilities are hard to understand. For example, autism is complex and confusing, even for those of us who try to help these individuals. So it is easy to understand why one might misinterpret a child having a meltdown in a store, not realizing that these kids are easily overwhelmed, fixate on objects, misinterpret their surroundings, and process information differently. Our community benefits greatly by educating ourselves and better understanding the disabilities others may live with. Offering help and/or encouragement instead of judgement paves the way for these individuals to feel more accepted, opening up opportunities for each of them to learn and grow, simply by sending the message that “we want you here.”

Invitation To Our Community

Being proactive in developing a community that embraces individuals living with a disability will enrich not only our community, but our own lives as well. Businesses and organizations can be proactive by making doors and hallways wheelchair accessible, but also having a plan or space for our sensory-sensitive kids (sensory-sensitive tables in restaurants, quiet rooms to enable an individual space to decompress, etc). Businesses should also consider creating employment opportunities, while organizations can promote disability-friendly programs. And individuals, whether a relative or someone you see in the community, be patient, understanding, and accepting and together we can create a community where everyone feels welcome.

This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.

How to live with disabilities

I was born with Spina Bifida and one of the biggest challenges of having been born with a disability is that it’s sometimes difficult to separate yourself as a person from the physical condition you’ve always known.

I’ve learned that others who have acquired disabilities can struggle with the adjustment and adaptation that goes along with going from walking to a life on wheels or on crutches. These circumstances can make it more difficult for anyone with a disability to have a positive self-image and to develop self-esteem. Understanding this situation, here are some key insights that I think can help any person with a disability develop confidence.

1) Doctors do not know everything.
Medical professionals have tremendous skills that should be respected but they do not have all the answers. You know yourself and your family knows you. Seek input from those who know you well and stick with your own intuition. It’s usually right.

2) Don’t live up to other’s expectations.
Many people may have very small expectations of you because of your injury or disability but their judgments about you are wrong. If you don’t exceed these expectations you could find yourself not prepared with enough skills to deal with life independently. It may be hard to learn skills like cooking, cleaning and personal care while also balancing school and work but doing so will prepare you for a better future. To put it simply – be what you want to become.

3) Don’t measure yourself against anything else.
Be realistic yet hopeful about those dreams. You know your capabilities and if you think you can do it. You definitely can. Don’t let others convince you otherwise.

4) Understand that you’re in a costume all the time.
But your disability is not who you are. It has about as much to do with your soul as your hair color. Unfortunately, people may project uncertainty, emotional pain, anger and sadness onto you simply because you appear to be in a situation they fear and do not understand. So, like many people, they will cope by ridiculing or trying to ignore what they fear. Do not be intimidated by this even if people try to avoid you or try to silence you because you are seeking things that make them feel uncomfortable.

5) Be open to knowing new people.
By the nature of your circumstance, you will get to know people in fascinating and wonderful ways and some of your friendships will be deep but there will be those who can’t handle you and may be quite negative toward you. Stick with your friends and don’t get caught into the trap of trying to impress people for acceptance. It does not work. Ever.

6) You have the right to life, love, education and employment.
You will have to work hard to obtain these things but if you put in the effort and the time, just like everyone else, then eventually the opportunities that are right for you will come. Stick to it and don’t give up.

7) People may be afraid to tell you things honestly.
They may think you’re fragile and won’t want to hurt your feelings. Many will want to reward you for breathing or for being inspirational and they’ll accept whatever you give them without expectation of a better effort. This does not help you. Seek those who will tell you things honestly. Those who are honest with you are your friends. Cherish them and go back to them often for perspective and advice.

8) Seek great friends.
A friend who can prove they are reliable, unselfish and respectful toward you is the best friend you can have. Seek these qualities in the people you get to know well.

9) Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Very few people are dealing with everything you experience. You’ve already become an extremely strong person just by doing the things necessary to successfully live life with a disability. Gain confidence from the fact that you’re an expert on subjects most people have no clue about. You know how to problem solve, you know how to adapt and you are emotionally strong. In life that’s about 90% of all you need.

10) If you worry about the future, don’t.
Your disability is much less important than the way you choose to live your life. If you have hope, a sense of humor, ambitions and a positive outlook on yourself and other people than you will acquire all that is important in life. It likely won’t come to you quickly or easily. It’s likely to come over time through a series of small victories. Keep moving forward, if people stare at you, stare back and smile. Learn to communicate and always put the effort into first asking for and then working toward what you want.

11) Exercise regularly and drink lots of water.
Do what you need to do to stay active. If you stay on the couch you’ll remain on the couch even when you don’t want to be there.

12) Find ways to connect with people.
Lots of people are curious about you. Often, they admire and are inspired by you even if they don’t know enough about you to understand that you can help them see life from a perspective that no one else can. Understand what a great power that is and learn to connect with people on the things you have in common.

People with disabilities have always been a part of society, but they were not always accepted and looked after like we do now. Social constructs and ways of thinking have framed the views of society and therefore how people with disabilities were treated. These constructs and ideas of what disability is still frame our society and thinking today.

Reading about the history of learning disabilities, it is interesting – and quite shocking really – to learn about the treatment people with disabilities, either mental or physical, have been given through the centuries.

Babylonians would look at babies born with disabilities as good predictors of the future; Romans would drown disabled babies; Greeks were the first ones to talk about eugenics, they also thought that those born deaf couldn’t think rationally. In Old Testament times, disability was linked to sin, nevertheless those born with disabilities were protected and people were taught to treat them kindly. In the New Testament, it became a source of miracles when Jesus healed the disabled.

Aztecs and Europeans (1100s) would display the disabled in zoos. In the 1300s, disabled people in England depended on charity for their survival. Those suffering with mental health were labelled “lunatics” and confined to facilities and seen as entertainment for visitors.

In the 1400s, the Church allows the murder of those with disabilities, and a few years later witch hunts begin, causing the death of many women who were disabled or struggling with mental health problems.

In the 1800s, disability is portrayed as weak and pathetic in works like A Christmas Carol (Tiny Tim), and there is also an attempt to institutionalise disabled children for life. The 1900s sees eugenics and institutionalisation to be the norm. The Mental Deficiency Act categorises those with learning and mental health issues as idiots, imbeciles, and more. Unmarried mothers were included in this category. In 1935 and throughout the second world war, euthanasia of disabled people, and “mercy killings” ordered by Hitler, were widespread.

In the 1960s, a soap character becomes a wheelchair user, and in 1992, a disabled actor stars in a soap opera on the BBC. In 2012, Paralympic Games are held in the UK.

Looking back to what has been the treatment of people with disabilities through the ages, even in the early 1900s, it is clear to see that difference has always been stigmatised in societies far and wide. Not only stigmatised, sometimes even demonised!

There are many aspects of the treatment of those with disabilities that are shameful to think about, and without wanting to justify them, they were different times and knowledge wasn’t what it is now.

It is very unfortunate for those with disabilities, the atrocious things they had to deal with, and unfortunately it seems like we have repeated ill treatment even in recent decades.

In addition, and I don’t want to get political about this, but it is a fact, that those with disabilities are seeing major cuts to the services and benefits they receive, which means that they have less access to those things that they have a right to access – activities in the community, services, and general things that those of us without disabilities might take for granted.

I work with people with disabilities, and when out in the community, I can still see that stigma and stereotyping is still around. Of course, it is much less than in past centuries, and there is more information available and more understanding of behaviours and the different visible and invisible disabilities out there.

More compassion, information and understanding will make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities, and having equal access to everything that everyone else has access to will enrich the lives and the communities where they live.

After reading this article, I leave you with the following questions:

Do you think we have moved forward in regard to how we treat and think about people with disabilities?

How can we add on to the work that’s brought us to where we are today?

What can you do to enrich your life, your community and the life of someone with disabilities?

Where to Live When You Don't Need a Nursing Home

James Lacy, MLS, is a fact checker and researcher. James received a Master of Library Science degree from Dominican University.

Isaac O. Opole, MD, PhD, is a board-certified internist specializing in geriatric medicine. For over 15 years, he's practiced at the Kansas University Medical Center, where he is also a professor.

For a young adult with disabilities, living at home alone isn’t always an option. Changes in your health or medical condition may take you from living well on your own to needing some assistance to perform daily activities. Whether you’re young or old, there are a variety of housing options to choose from when considering assisted living options. Also, some types of housing arrangements can be funded in whole or in part by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance.

Care at Home

Some people with disabilities can live in their own homes or apartments but need help with certain activities like cooking, cleaning, and shopping. When there are no family caregivers or other volunteers available, outside assistance is necessary. Home healthcare agencies are a resource that can provide these services.

Depending upon the needs of the individual, Medicaid may cover these costs. Medicare will only pay for these services based on specific criteria, including which parts a patient has additional coverage for (i.e., Medicare Part C).

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are also known as a second unit or “in-law apartment.” These are apartments exist within a primary house or apartment and have a separate living area, kitchen, and bathroom. These units provide a private residence for friends or family members to live independently, but close enough for a loved one to provide daily care as needed. If you're interested in building an ADU within an existing home, be sure to check with local zoning boards.

Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities vary greatly from location to location, and so do the services they offer. Some common services include assistance with daily care, meal preparation, and transportation. Residences may be an apartment, a shared dwelling, or separate, one-floor dwellings within a larger community of similar buildings.

Some facilities provide onsite healthcare services, while others offer transportation for residents to their offsite medical appointments. Most assisted living facilities are not funded by Medicaid or Medicare.  

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) provide progressive care as a person's condition progresses and they need a higher level of care. The resident may live in an assisted living area of the community and then move into the nursing home area of the community when they need a higher level of care.

The contracts of CCRCs usually require that residents must use the nursing home care area of the community if they ever need this level of care. Residents usually pay a large down payment and a monthly fee. Be sure to look for an accredited facility if you are choosing this type of care.

Subsidized Housing

Subsidized housing, in some instances, offers additional services to disabled and elderly residents. Services may include room cleaning, laundry, and shopping. Typical subsidized housing is often found within apartment complexes. The housing is for individuals who have low to moderate incomes, and the rent is based on a sliding scale. State and federal programs usually help to subsidize the rent for residents.

Boarding Homes or Group Homes

Boarding homes are for individuals who need more care than living at home by themselves, but they aren’t quite ready for a nursing home. A boarding home or group home may provide bathing, assistance with dressing, housekeeping, meals, and transportation. Depending upon location, these homes may be covered by Medicare or Medicaid; otherwise, other state and federal programs may provide assistance with covering the cost of staying in a boarding or group home.

More Assisted Living Options

To learn more about assisted living options in your area, contact the following organizations in your state or county:

This article was co-authored by Meredith Brinster, PhD. Meredith Brinster serves as a Pediatric Developmental Psychologist in the Dell Children’s Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Program and as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Dell Medical School of The University of Texas at Austin. With over five years of experience, Dr. Brinster specializes in evaluating children and adolescents with developmental, behavioral, and academic concerns, including autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, intellectual disability, anxiety, attention problems, and learning disabilities. Her current research focuses on early biomarkers of autism spectrum disorder, as well as improving access to care. Dr. Brinster received her BA in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Johns Hopkins University and her doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She completed her clinical internship in pediatric and child psychology at the University of Miami Medical School and Mailman Center for Child Development. She is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 60,413 times.

Learning the proper way to act and speak around someone with a disability may not be as intuitive as you may think. Oftentimes, there are ways of speaking and behaving which may be very disrespectful to the person with a disability, causing them annoyance, anger, or frustration. Rather than possibly causing a problem, learn the best way to act and talk, so as to respect people with disabilities.