You may think a disability is something that only happens to other people, but it may be more common than you realize. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), 56 million people in the U.S. live with disabilities, and 38 million people live with severe disabilities.
The SSA predicts that one out of every four of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching retirement. But whether you are born with a disability or acquire it later in life, there are many ways to live (and thrive) with a disability.
Living With a Disability
April Kerley, a digital content strategist at Western & Southern and former U.S. Paralympic swimmer, never let her disability get in the way. Kerley was born without her right hand and learned to swim as a child. Her love for the sport — and competition — grew over time, and she went on to win numerous medals at both national and international competitions.
Throughout her life, Kerley has found a positive attitude made all the difference for her. "If you have an attitude of gratitude, you'll tend to see the world that way," said Kerley. "You'll be grateful for what you have, and not focus on what you don't have." She sees her involvement in sports as a way to showcase her abilities — not her disability.
While not everyone is comfortable discussing their disabilities, Kerley finds opportunities to share her story — like when she sees someone who appears uncomfortable. Often, it's young children. By approaching them and explaining that she was born without a hand, Kerley invites questions and conversations, which sometimes leads to others sharing their own challenges with her.
Living Life to the Fullest
It can be challenging to come to terms with a lifelong, short- or long-term disability. A short-term disability might include a broken leg or the process of recovering from a car accident. A long-term disability might include the development of a chronic illness that causes mobility issues or the loss of a limb.
Kerley has some words of advice for those who develop a disability later in life. "Realize that your life isn't over," Kerley said. "Too many times, they feel that a loss of a body part or the ability to walk means their life is over." She recommends reframing your mindset about the meaning of independence — adapting and redefining your life to maintain as much independence as possible.
Kerley also recommends taking things one day at a time and reaching out to support groups, which are easy to find online through social media or nonprofit websites. Support can range from group meetings to information or financial assistance from a nonprofit organization.
Hobbies and volunteer work are also excellent ways for people with disabilities to stay active and get support. Advocacy work is often a natural fit for many people living with a disability, as it can align their interests and abilities.
"A disability doesn't have to limit your ability to volunteer or share your passions with the world," Kerley said. Nonprofits are always seeking out people who want to help, and they can offer welcoming communities as well.
Living With the Costs of Care
Still, the financial costs of living with a disability can be high. Medications, medical expenses, adaptive equipment and health care provider fees all add up quickly. "A lot of people may need to seek out government programs and assistance," Kerley said. The U.S. government provides a variety of benefits for people living with disabilities, according to the SSA, but they may not be enough to maintain your current lifestyle. If you do have a pre-existing condition (either from birth or acquired), you can also obtain disability life insurance.
If you are not currently living with a disability, disability income insurance could help give you peace of mind for tomorrow. While you may have this insurance type through your employer, it may not be enough coverage for your individual needs. If you change jobs, you may also lose your coverage — and may need to wait (uninsured) until your new coverage begins (if it's offered).
At the end of the day, a disability cannot be predicted. It can happen at any point in life, so it's important to keep in mind all the ways you could live life to the fullest should you ever develop a short- or long-term disability.