There are so many ways to suddenly become disabled – a fall, a virus gone rogue, bike accident, stroke, tick bite, infection that causes blindness or deafness or loss of a limb, a car running a red light. All of us are one moment, one misstep away from our lives being turned inside out.
Because disability instantly throws our lives into disarray. And too commonly, it brings overwhelming losses – the ability to work, companionship of friends, ability to care for one’s self and home, loss of that home. And finally poverty, because the more disabled you are, the fewer support systems exist to help you either sustain yourself or get back on your feet and able to support yourself again.
Poverty and disability form a common two-way street. While disability often impoverishes its victims, poverty just as readily leads to disability.
According to the World Bank, “Poverty causes disabilities and can … lead to secondary disabilities for those … already disabled, as a result of the poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to health care and education opportunities etc. Together, poverty and disability create a vicious circle.”
Poverty means having limited or no resources. Hunger, thirst, malnutrition, sleeping in hovels or on the streets, no clue where to begin looking for assistance, and no energy or way to get to help sources even if they are identified.
In underdeveloped countries – and certainly in under-served regions of well-off countries, too – the poor lack access to education that could enable a bit of earning power, and they lack access to medical care to prevent even fairly simple problems to become life-threatening. Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness. Iodine deficiency has been linked to slowed mental development in children. Unsanitary work and living situations can breed diseases like polio, typhoid and others that cause death if untreated.*
Even if there is some income, much of it must go to pay for medical care for the disabled ones, keeping the healthier ones still at risk for illness themselves. And often, children become the caregivers, preventing them from getting an education.*
I certainly have no answers. The dark and deeply tangled web of poverty and disability barely offers entry points, much less solutions.
And I know too many people for whom disability has bred poverty, which has bred more disability. A friend who moved across the country to be near family because she is disabled and was failing to thrive without family. But that meant leaving her healthcare behind in moving to a state that offered none — and with it, access to a critical medication that keeps her able to work at least part-time. Now she’s lucky if she can work two hours a day.
A man was supporting his son and grandson until he developed a progressive chronic illness. He used most of his savings to continue providing for his family until there was little left, he was too ill to go outside his home, and his son and grandson moved out.
Perhaps the best we can do – and the least we can do – is not turn away from these folks in disgust or, more likely, fear that comes with realizing this could happen to us. Instead, very pragmatically, we need to share what we can and help when we can.
*This and other source information found at http://www.phos.be
Jan retired on disability in 1994 from a career as a business owner. Having moved to Cambridge from Baltimore/DC in 2000, she focuses now on disability advocacy–particularly invisible disabilities, cohousing, Time Trade Circle, beading and fiber arts, treasured friends and her two grandchildren.