Disability versus Developmental Disability

developmentdisabilitiesI am a disability advocate, which means I work with and for people with developmental disabilities and their families as they try and navigate the developmental disability world. As a conservative I am unique in my field as most folks who work in human services, particularly those working with developmental disabilities, are more liberal. I remember when I first started in 2008, a co-worker asked me who I would be voting for, and when I said, “McCain,” he said, “No way. You can’t work in this field and vote for a Republican.” I was honestly taken aback at first and then quite briskly said, “Oh yes I can.”

Five years later I am still a disability advocate and more conservative than ever. To be honest, I often times will tell people that I believe conservatives are best suited to work in these systems because not only do we believe in the individual and their ability to succeed, but also in being good stewards of the people’s money. I am not someone who is willing to throw money at a problem and just hope it goes away, I would rather invest my time and energy and really advocate for the individual.

One of the most challenging parts of my job is explaining the difference between disability and developmental disability. When people find out I advocate in this field they immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s the disability program that is wrought with fraud and abused on a massive level, which is incorrect. It is this thinking however that makes my job that much harder, especially when dealing with legislators and the general public in a very conservative state. It is my hope that by writing this article that more people will be educated between the differences in these programs.

Disability, as the program is defined, falls under Social Security and pays “benefits” to an individual if they have worked long enough and have a medical condition that prevents them from working. This is the program that is abused by people who claim all types of “medical conditions” like being too overweight to work or one of the most popular, being depressed. Yes, if you’re depressed you can collect disability… no wonder people get so bent out of shape when they think I’m advocating for this group.

The folks I advocate for have developmental disabilities, which is entirely and completely different from people claiming disability. Under the law, a developmental disability is defined as a list of conditions: brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, Prader-Willi syndrome and/or intellectual disability. The condition must be permanent. Under federal law, a developmental disability is a severe, chronic disability caused by a mental or physical impairment, or both. The impairment must:

  • occur before a person’s 22nd birthday
  • result in serious limitations in three of the following areas:
    1. self-care;
    2. receptive and expressive language;
    3. learning;
    4. mobility;
    5. self-direction;
    6. capacity for independent living; and
    7. economic self-sufficiency, and
  • create a need for lifelong services and supports.

People with developmental disabilities want to work and are often ashamed of relying on the government. They want to be independent and contributing members of their communities – which seems to be the complete opposite of the yahoos claiming disability more and more each day in this country. Did you know that if everyone on disability lived in one place, it would be the eighth most populated state? Personally I find it offensive when the people I work with get lumped in with “those people on disability” because they are such complete opposites in most every way. The people claiming disability in many cases are trying to get out of work while people with developmental disabilities just want to get into the working world and be given a chance to earn an honest day’s wage. Yes employers, I’m looking at you.

People with developmental disabilities are the largest minority in this country. This minority doesn’t care about your skin tone, sex, creed or anything else. Anyone can have a developmental disability. And what we must remember is that a developmental disability in no way defines who a person is – it is simply just a part of them, like having blonde hair or green eyes. Sure, it’s tough reminding people about the differences in these groups but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get to empower and support people with developmental disabilities in living their lives they way they choose, and realizing their own American dream.

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