During the past year, we have all been learning to cope with the isolation due to the restrictive lifestyle brought about by COVID-19. There is light at the end of the tunnel with the discovery and manufacturing of vaccines, but the medical experts are predicting this will be a long dark winter.
For those who struggle every year with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this long dark winter is all too familiar. This long dark winter has both literal and emotional significance. Combining SAD with the quarantine due to COVID and the difficulties of receiving a vaccination for the virus, there is potential for additional problems this year.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The staff of the website Psychology Today notes: “Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder in which episodes of depression occur during the same season each year. This condition is sometimes called the ‘winter blues,’ because the most common seasonal pattern is for depressive episodes to appear in the fall or winter and remit in the spring. Less commonly, SAD occurs as summer depression, typically beginning in the late spring or early summer and remitting in the fall. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight a person receives.”
It is estimated that roughly about 10 million Americans are influenced by SAD and there are perhaps another 20% of the population who may have a mild form of the condition. It seems women are four times as likely to have the condition as men. “the age of onset is estimated to be between the age of 18 and 30” according to Psychology Today. For many, the symptoms are severe enough to affect the quality of their lives, and about 6% of these have conditions requiring hospitalization.
In her report, Carrie MacMillan of yalemedicine.org comments: “SAD is more common in women and in people who live far from the equator. For example, it affects an estimated 1% of people in Florida and 9% of those in Alaska.” Continuing on MacMillan also reports: “In the Northeast, most studies suggest that SAD, in its most marked form, affects 3 to 5% of the population.” SAD also seems to occur more often in young adults than it does in older adults.
SAD is not only restricted to merely the cold-weather season, but there is also Summer-Onset-affective disorder or summer depression and the symptoms may include:
Agitation or anxiety
For those people living with bipolar disorder, there seems to be seasonal changes as well. The Mayo Clinic suggests: “In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.”
The exact cause of SAD is unknown at this time, as mayocinic.org notes, several factors might come into play, and they may include:
“Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.”
“Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.”
“Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.”
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms associated with SAD and making a proper diagnosis will require the assistance of a mental health professional, but below is a list of the most common SAD warning signs to look for:
Mood Swings. Feelings of hopelessness and sadness. An energetic person may become lethargic and socially withdrawn.
Increased sensitivity to social rejection, and increased anxiety levels leading to a decrease in the ability to tolerate stress. Increased lack of willingness to be seen in public and increased irritability, a refusing to talk. Increased thoughts of suicide.
Problems with sleeping
Problem with concentration and focus
A drop in energy level is a symptom people frequently struggle with. They find it hard to complete simple daily tasks.
A heavy feeling in the arms and legs and fatigue.
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
To manage seasonal affective disorder try to:
Experience as much daylight as possible. It is thought the lack of sun exposure is part of what causes SAD and soaking up as much sunlight as you can lessen your symptoms. Sit by a window, or better yet get out for a walk if you can.
Eat Healthily. Comfort foods do not have to be loaded with salt, sugar, fat, and lots of unnecessary calories to be enjoyable. There are plenty of other healthier choices out there, be creative, try making a dessert using seasonal fruits. They may surprise you.
Spend time with your friends and family. During this pandemic, this has become difficult. Zooming has become very popular with families to stay in touch and to see and visit with one another. This can be an opportunity to hone those computer skills you’ve been putting off. Zooming is not a substitute for personal contact, but it is safer, so stay in touch.
Stay Active. Covid has limited what we can do safely, but there is no reason you can’t go for a walk with a friend or family member or you could go ice skating. Routine exercise has been shown to be effective in lessening the effects of SAD.
Seek professional help. If your feelings of depression continue, you might consider seeking professional help such as a psychologist who can best determine if your condition is truly SAD and recommend effective treatment.
As with all conditions, self-care is an important aspect of any treatment. As for those with SAD, it is important to:
Monitor mood and energy level
Take advantage of available sunlight
Plan pleasurable activities for the winter season
Plan physical activities
Approach the winter season with a positive attitude
When symptoms develop seek help sooner rather than later
As discussed previously, no one is sure of the cause of this condition, but some believe there may be a connection between the reduction of sunlight in the winter months and the increase in the depression associated with SAD. As a result, it is not uncommon for typical therapy to be a combination of antidepressant medication, vitamin D supplementation, counseling, and some form of light therapy.
Light therapy involves exposure to a bright artificial light that mimics outdoor light. This requires the use of a lightbox or light visor which is worn on the head like a cap and usually takes place first thing in the morning for a prescribed length of time which is generally between 30 and 60 minutes during the fall and winter months. The time varies with each individual and stopping the treatment too soon can bring about the return of the symptoms. The therapy normally continues until springtime as the volume of natural light increases.
When properly administered, there are few if any side effects. The side effects that do arise can include eyestrain, headaches, possible fatigue, or irritability. The inability to sleep has been known to occur if administered too late in the day.
If light therapy does not improve symptoms within a few days, medication and behavioral therapy may be recommended.
Finally, Carrie MacMillan suggests: “In addition to calling your primary care physician or psychologist, if you have one, resources include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress hotline, 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs; the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224); and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or call 911.”
The New Year is upon us and with it, the chilling conditions for the next few winter months. There are potential hazards with every season but winter storms and cold temperatures can be especially dangerous.
Most of us from time to time have felt cold during the winter, but what many may not know is being very cold has the potential of being dangerous. Remember being young and playing outside in the snow for hours and not being troubled by the cold? Changes occur as we age, causing older adults to lose body heat faster than when younger.
Staying Warm, Medical Conditions and Medicines
Several illnesses make it harder for your body to stay warm and should be acknowledged.
Thyroid problems have been known to make it harder for a person to maintain proper body temperature.
Diabetes can change normal blood flow making it difficult for the body to stay warm.
Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can increase the difficulty of putting on more clothing. Use a blanket or stay out of the cold.
Memory loss can cause a person to venture outside in the cold without being properly dressed.
Talk with your doctor about your health conditions and avoiding possible hypothermia.
Taking certain medication and not being active may also affect the body’s ability to maintain body heat. The effects of medications include over-the-counter medicines (such as cold medications). It is best to consult with your doctor about medical conditions, medication, and cold weather.
What is Hypothermia? According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA): ”Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low. For an older person, a body temperature of 95 degrees or lower can cause many health problems, such as heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.”
Furthermore, the NIA continues to warn: “Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. Try to stay away from cold places, and pay attention to how cold it is where you are. You can take steps to lower your chance of getting hypothermia.”
Warning signs of Hypothermia
Below are warnings signs for hypothermia to watch for in others and yourself. Watch very very cold homes, or persons not dressed for the cold weather. Be sure to have a discussion with family and friends about these warning signs so they can help be on the outlook for you.
Shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
Slower than normal speech or slurring words
Being angry or confused
Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
Stiff and jerky arm or leg movement
Slow, shallow breathing
Blacking out or losing consciousness
Call 911 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia.
Keeping Warm Indoors
Although the focus thus far has been directed at seniors, there are also various reasons for people with special needs to have problems staying warm and comfortable. The NIA notes: “Even if you keep your temperature between 60°F and 65°F, your home or apartment may not be warm enough to keep you safe.” Living alone becomes a problem because there is no one else is there to feel the chill of your home. Below are some tips to help with keeping you warm indoors:
Set your thermostat to at least 68°F and 70°F. While doing this close vents and close the doors to rooms you are not using and keep the basement door closed.
Use space heaters with caution, some space heaters can be fire hazards, some can cause carbon monoxide poising. Read and follow all instructions and consumer safety precautions.
Check your smoke alarms and CO2 detectors.
Be sure to follow routine maintenance of furnaces, be sure vents are clear, and check any filters regularly.
Roll towels and place them in front of doors with a draft. Make sure your house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep blinds, curtains or drapery closed. If you have gaps around the windows, consider using weather stripping, caulk, or plastic window sheets.
If you suspect your home does not have enough insulation, you may wish to contact your state or local energy agency. You may also consider contacting your local power and gas company. All of these agencies may be able to provide you with valuable information on winterizing your home. This can help in lowering your utility bills and they have special programs to aid those people with limited incomes.
Even though you are staying indoors, on cold days add an extra layer of clothing, a simple blanket or extra pair of socks and slippers can do wonders.
Try wearing long underwear under your pajamas, wear socks, or maybe throw on an extra blanket. Wear a cap or hat to bed. Keeping warm is far more important on cold winter nights than appearance.
Body fat helps you stay warm. If you don’t eat well you have less fat under the skin, therefore make sure you eat enough to main your weight.
Alcoholic drinks have been shown to cause the body to lose heat, if you, drink do it in moderation.
Have an emergency plan, include your physician in the planning. Have emergency contacts in place, a list of prescription medications. Those with special needs should sign up with your area Special Needs Registry.
If you are having a hard time paying your heating bills, you may be able to get some help by contacting the National Energy Assistance Referral service at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 1-866-674-6327 (toll-free; TTY, 1-866-367-6228) for more information about the Low Income Home Assistance Program.
Several online resources are addressing cold weather concerns and precautions that are important for people with disabilities and the elderly. Listed below are some basic tips to help keep them safer and warmer.
It may seem repetitive, but Make staying warm a priority!
Wear multiple layers of clothing. Simply because of limitations that accompany the winter season, maintaining body heat is certainly one of the major challenges. Wearing layered clothing during the winter months will help to keep your body warm. Just remember it easier to add another layer of clothing, than to endure the alternative of being chilled. When braving the outdoors you should consider Dr. Kevin Sirmons reports: “40-45 percent of body heat is lost through the head and neck due to increased blood flow in comparison with the rest of the body.” So don’t forget a wearing scarf and a hat, additionally, your ears are part of your head and will serve you better if covered in cold temperatures. Finally, any exposed part of the body in the cold has the potential for heat loss. Wear insulated gloves, doubled up socks, and a pair of lined winter boots when going outdoors.
A final word on layering. If possible have a winter coat with a hood attached. It is easy if you are caught outside without a hat or conditions become windy to simply flip the hood up over your head. Lastly, layering is best done using thin layers allowing air between layers to act as insulation and allow for freedom of movement. Avoid cotton whenever possible, once wet or damp it does not dry-well. Man-made fibers such as polypropylene tend to wick moisture away from the body. If your clothing should become damp or wet change them as soon as possible.
Additional Winter Safety Precautions:
Keep your Sidewalk Cleaned: Keeping your sidewalks free of snow and ice is critical for anyone with mobility difficulties. We all find it difficult to navigate icy walkways and through three of snow. Now just imagine trying to use a cane or walker, or traveling in a wheelchair, whether it be traditional or motorized. Be sure the sidewalk is cleaned wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The width of a shovel blade is not wide enough.
Wheelchairs: On the Easter Seals website Phyllis Buchanan, who is a power wheelchair user, provides some tips:
Think of your wheelchair as a car, especially in the winter. “this means making sure everything is tuned up, charged, and ready for possible rough terrain ahead.”
She also suggests, “having an emergency kit in case you become stuck in hazardous conditions. Some items to have on hand include a protein bar, bottle of water, hand warmers, and kitty litter to use for traction.”
Buchanan also recommends: “wheelchair users should consider buying an all-weather poncho that is spacious enough to fit over you and your chair. They can be found at any camping supply store.”
Another of Phyllis’s ideas is: “wheelchair users may want to consider outfitting their wheelchair with snow tires to prepare for the icy conditions. If you’re seeking financial assistance or a grant to make sure your wheelchair is winter-ready, consider reaching out to your local Easter seals for advice.”
Stock Up: We have already discussed the importance of maintaining body fat and the need for eating properly in the winter months. Being prepared for severe winter storms means stocking up on not only some non-perishable food items but also batteries, and if you heat with wood, a good supply of firewood, but also make sure all appropriate prescriptions are filled.
Carry a cell phone: It seems like a simple idea but keeping a charged cell phone with you can be a lifesaver, if you slip and fall, if you are stranded in your car, or simply lock yourself out of your house.
Move Slowly: If you do need to go out during the winter months, especially during or right after a weather event, even if it’s just to your mailbox, walk slowly and keep your balance and take your cell phone with you. Use cheaters on your boots or shoes, they dig into ice and hard-packed snow. For those requiring walking aids be sure to have rubber tips on them so that if you put all your weight on the device it will help to prevent slipping on ice. Finally, it is not a good idea to use rollators in snow or on ice.
Sign up with the Special Needs Registry in your area: On the website https://www.usedhandicapvans.com/blog/winter-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities/ they report: “Each county within each state of the United States has what is called a ‘Special Needs Registry’. This allows those residents who have special needs or who require special assistance to register with their county. If there is a natural disaster or an evacuation, or something else that would require assistance, your information will be on file in the area that you live in, making it more accessible to get the help you need, when you need it most.”
Don’t forget your four-legged friends: While tending to our winter needs, we shouldn’t forget about our furry friends who we depend on much more than we often realize. Although they may have thick natural fur coats our pets can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite just as much as people. Seeing-eye dogs and service animals need to be prepared and protected for harsh winter conditions to ensure their safety. Service dogs going outdoors should have boots to protect their feet not only from the cold and ice buildup on their fur but equally important to protect their feet from rock salt used on walkways and streets. Undissolved salt crystals can be not only painful but harmful to the animal’s paws.
`Tis the season for shopping and gift-giving. While shopping for that perfect gift, considering a pet for someone with a disability will require much consideration.
I will confess to being one of 10 to 30% of the population that is a cat lover, so when it comes to choosing a pet I am a bit prejudiced. Being a cat owner means accepting being treated with indifference as commonplace, or going out for the evening and coming home to this creature you care for, acting as though you’re a perfect stranger. Anything dropped on the floor instantly becomes a play toy and disappears forever. Since mine is an in-door cat there is the matter of a litter box. I would have never believed such a sweet little fur-ball could produce such a god-awful odor. Yet with all the loving attention and gifts given, the biggest reward is stepping on, in bare feet, an ice-cold hairball on the kitchen floor, which was barfed up during the night.
Despite all of the above negatives, there would be a void in my life if she wasn’t there. In the middle of a cold winter night, having her jump in bed and curl behind my legs and purr is somehow comforting even though I find myself sleeping in some awkward positions, not willing to move or roll-over for fear of disturbing her.
In these times of maintaining social distancing and isolation have been difficult for everyone. For seniors living alone or in a nursing home, combined with the holidays, this is even more so. For those isolated because of a disability, the changes in routine and lack of social contact can have an equally negative effect on their lives.
According to the CDC, “there are many health benefits of owning a pet”. They go on to state that “There are many health benefits of owning a pet.” There seems to be an attachment that forms, it’s a bond and goes beyond just food and water or being familiar and comfortable with one another. CDC studies have shown that this bond between humans and pets can increase fitness while also bring about increased happiness.
Reports by the CDC found this relationship between humans and their pets have some health benefits which include:
Decreased blood pressure
Decreased cholesterol levels
Decreased triglyceride levels
Decreased feelings of loneliness
Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
Increased opportunities for socialization
Additionally, pets have been shown to help lower stress and bring about happiness.
Consideration for Selecting the Right Pet
When thinking about adopting that perfect pet for you, or your family members or member. To help you with your research, the list below is adapted from the CDC recommended questions to ask yourself the following questions before choosing a pet:
How long will the animal live?
What does the animal eat?
How much exercise does the pet need?
How large will it become?
How much will it cost for veterinary care?
Is there enough time (or capability) to properly care for and clean up after the pet?
What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy?
What type of exercise does this pet need?
Are pets allowed in the home, apartment, or condominium?
Is the young person, older person, or people with weak immune systems who will care for or be around the pet?
What may be the most important consideration is: Does anyone in the immediate or extended family have allergies to any animal? The health concern can halt the process of adding a pet to the household before it begins.
For additional information and health concerns visiting the CDC website is recommended:
For older adults considering adding a pet to the home, be aware there are things to think about and to take into account before bring that pet home.
What is the best pet for a senior citizen? Esther Kane believes: “The best type of pet to get if you are an older adult is one that fits your lifestyle, your needs, your home environment and one that you can physically care for.”
Seniors who rely on a wheelchair or bed-bound or have difficulties walking with or without using some kind of aid will find caring for a dog, cat, or even a rabbit difficult. Caring for a pet would be impossible without assistance from others.
Below is a list of questions and issues to realistically to consider when choosing the best pet for senior life:
What size pet can be best accommodated in your home.
Can you manage just one pet or more?
Can you provide enough time for your pet to keep healthy and happy?
Can you afford the cost of food, vet visits, training (if needed)? This must also include any toys or furniture need for the comfort of your pet.
Do you have support in place to care for your pet, if or when you become unable to?
Are you able to tolerate (and repair) any damage caused by your pet?
What do you want from your pet(s)? Protection? Companionship? (How does one cuddle with or interact with fish?)
Are you physically capable of caring for your pet? Will you be capable 5 or 10 years from now?
Veterans, PTSD, and Pets
For many of our veterans returning home from the wars in the middle east, the experiences have left them traumatized. Most of these go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an anxiety disorder with a variety of symptoms. For example: having flashbacks, nightmares, or emotional numbness to name a few.
Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and medication have shown reasonable success. Many going through these therapies can help them to work through their symptoms lessening the impact the condition has on their lives and sometimes flares do occur.
Additionally, it can be hard to admit they are struggling and need help. To make matters worse it can be even harder to admit to someone who has never been at war and believe they could help with the symptoms. Finally, many veterans simply find it difficult to access the help they need.
Psychologytoday.com reports some of the reasons dogs might help those with PTSD:
There is a bright spot for these veterans in the form of dogs.
“Dogs are vigilant. Anyone who has ever had a nightmare knows that a dog in the room provides information. They immediately let you know if you are really in immediate danger or if you just had a nightmare. This extra layer of vigilance mimics the buddy system in the military.”
“Dogs are protective. Just like the buddy system in the military. Someone is there to have your back.
“Dogs respond well to authoritative relationships. Some military personnel return from their deployments and have difficulty functioning in their relationships. They are used to giving and getting orders. This usually doesn’t work well in the typical American home, and many servicemen and women have been told to knock that off once they got home. Dogs love it.”
“Dogs love unconditionally. Some military personnel returning from their deployments have difficulty adjusting to the civilian world.” They soon realize the skills they were taught and applied while in the military do not apply and do not transfer to their new civilian life. Although they were well respected for their skills in the military, the lack of respect for these skills in civilian life can be devastating. “Dogs don’t play any of these games. They just love.”
“Dogs help relearn trust. Trust is a big issue in PTSD. It can be very difficult to feel safe in the world after certain experiences, and being able to trust the immediate environment can take some time. Dogs help heal by being trustworthy.”
“Dogs help to remember feelings of love. The world can look pretty convoluted after deployment to a war zone. But it seems vets have found not what happens in their relationship with their pets, all they feel from their dog is love.
The author ends by stating: “the best part is that it doesn’t seem to matter if the dog is a Pitbull or a Chihuahua or a plain old mutt.”
Pets for Your Child with Autism
This section must start with a disclaimer: I am not an expert on Autism, or do I recommend a pet for those with Autism. The choice of a pet in this situation depends greatly on the person the pet is intended for. I can say I have seen some positive outcomes.
Have you given thoughts to getting a pet, but you just are unsure if it is a good idea? Do you have a pet but have not figured out how to help your child with Autism to be gentle with the animal? What type of pet would be best suited for your child? Is a service dog appropriate? How do you teach your autistic child to interact with a pet introduced to the household safely?
An article by Amelia Dalphonse provides pros and cons to many of the questions one may have as well as some the readers may not have thought of.
Dalphonse believes: “Pets are wonderful for children in a variety of ways:
Help with emotional regulation
With these benefits come some specific challenges:
Responsibility is often like adding another child to the family
Young children often need extra supervision around pets to ensure safety
Some pets may be disturbed by loud noises or challenging behavior
So, what is the answer? It’s up to the individual family to decide what is right for them.”
Dalphonse explains: “Many children feel more understood by pets than by parents. This may be because they never judge, get angry, or yell.”
There has been some research that found a connection between autistic children, owning a pet, and improvement in social behavior. For children with autism, there is often a struggle with empathy and the consideration of how their behavior impacts others. Dalphonse points out: “Learning prosocial behavior by taking care of a pet can help them develop this key skill.” In the article, Dalphonse continues to acknowledge: “the research is just emerging and not definitive, this could be a significant benefit for children with autism. This benefit may be more apparent with specially trained therapy animals.”
There is no question that pet-owning comes with an abundance of responsibilities. Even very young children can learn to provide some basic care like providing food and water or brushing the pet. It should be noted that this can be helpful, but it depends on the child. In some cases caring for a pet might represent just another thing to be opposed to.
Help with Emotional Regulation
Pets have been shown to greatly reduce stress and anxiety and they can provide a source of comfort in life. Again a cat person, there is little I find more comforting than the sound of a cat purring. That unconditional love and nonjudgmental companionship can provide a soothing diversion from stress and the promotion of emotional well-being.
Autistic children can benefit from service animals for a variety of needs. They can act as a second set of eyes warning the adults that the child is engaged in something dangerous. Service animals have been trained to warn of seizures or that the child may need assistance. Service animals are well trained, as a result making their cost high and you will find they are difficult to obtain. Be sure a service animal is a right choice for your family before investing.
Added Responsibilities for Parents
Caring for a child with special needs can be overwhelming and adding the needs of a pet may be unreasonable. There is allowing time for training, play, and another mouth to feed. On top of the time required, there is also the pet’s health and vet appointment to meet and to pay for. One other consideration is travel. If you can travel with the child, you may have increased this difficulty by including a pet or having to find someone to look after the pet during your absence, or if for a long period, can you afford the cost of boarding your pet.
Dalphonse reminds us: “Children with autism engage in a variety of challenging behaviors and may have difficulty interacting appropriately and safely with a pet. These children may require extensive supervision around pets which can further strain the resources of already exhausted parents and caregivers.”
So Many More Pros and Cons
There are so many pros and cons in adding a pet to one’s life. What at first glance might seem simple can become a complex issue. However, the effort can be worth it.
It has been well documented for some time now, about the bonds that develop between humans and animals. This post has primarily covered dogs and cats, but there are far more creatures that can provide companionship and add to the life experience of human beings. This discussion is just a glimpse of the information available. There are provided below a few of the many links on the internet that may help in choosing if you should or shouldn’t bring a pet into your home. Kira Newman wrote: “It could be that adopting a needy animal confers its own benefits, as doing good deeds tends to make us happier and healthier.” Newman goes on to suggest:” It’s clear that what we receive from dogs in love and care comes back to us a hundredfold.” That applies to those living a life with a disability or loneliness.
One final comment, I started by discussing my relationship with my cat and at this point in my life, it is difficult to imagine my home being without her to care for and her connection with me. She helps me through sadness and the days of depression or stress. My wife and I at times find it hard to believe the companionship she is capable of providing.
“We all have our own unique quirks and traits,” writes Courtney E. Ackerman MSc, she goes on to say: “we all have our own preferences and style for sharing pieces of ourselves with those around us.”
Self-expression for the disabled is just as important and can be just as creative and beautiful as it is for society in general. Social and emotional outlets are needed due to the psychological stereotyping of disabilities and the desire to be so-called ‘normal’. Self-expression provides the opportunity to experience a feeling of cultural normality.
Self-expression is something we are all aware of, it is at the core of every human being,and it is important not only for adults but children as well to have the freedom to self-express. The importance of self-expression should not be underestimated in society. Self-expression can take many forms. People may express themselves through words, facial expressions, body positions, movements, clothing, actions, and the arts.
In her article for positivepsychology.com Courtney Ackerman remarks: “How we share and express ourselves to others forms the basis of our personality, as understood by everyone but us, and sets the tone for our entire lives. It’s a vital aspect of life to pay attention to, especially if you want to feel more understood and more in tune with the people you care about.”
Furthermore, Ackerman goes on to comment: “The way that we share ourselves is known as self-expression, and it turns out there are a lot of ways to do it.”
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it seems like the perfect opportunity to point out that the term disabled is in so many cases misleading. It seems appropriate to appreciate that all people are equipped with varying abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and hidden talents which are often used for self-expression.
Before the ADA people living with disabilities were often minimized or ignored. There was little value placed on self-expression by the disabled. In the past 30 years, society has slowly begun to appreciate the feeling and ideas that were previously suppressed.
The Arts of the Past
It was not that long ago in human history that a person with a disability had few possibilities of self-expression. The few opportunities available were limited to that of being a sideshow ‘freak’ such as in the case of Charles B. Tripp. His talents ad skills may have been overlooked if not for P.T. Barnum and Ringling Brothers.
Throughout history, there have been numerous, famous, talented people with a disability who accomplished amazing works in all forms of the Arts. Below is a small list of those exceptional people:
Michelangelo: according to the Passionate People Team: “Experts disagree whether Michelangelo had gout or osteoarthritis. But either way, the famous painter and sculptor recorded that he had significant trouble using his hands.”
It has been claimed that the artist suffered from chronic kidney stones which would point to gout, but regardless, the artist continued his work with hammer and chisel as well as paints until he was nearly 89 years old.
Vincent Van Gogh: was believed to be bipolar and affected with bouts of depression. Of Van Gogh, The Passionate People Staff report: “had temporal lobe epilepsy” they continue report: “It is believed that his physician, Dr. Gachet, prescribed digitalis to treat his seizures. One common side effect of this medicine is seeing yellow spots. Some historians wonder if this is why Van Gogh seemed to love to use the color yellow in his art.” Additionally, it is believed that Van Gogh was most productive during his manic periods.
The talents in the arts are not limited just to visual arts, music has its share of composers and musicians who refused to allow physical barriers to hold them back.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Although he lived more than a century ago, the music he wrote still resonates today. The impact this German composer has had a lasting impact on classical music. Lee Standberry notes: “In the 1790s, Beethoven slowly began to lose his hearing, but continued to play, compose, and conduct. Eventually, he became entirely deaf, yet he didn’t let his disability stop him.”
Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles: Switching to more contemporary music, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are considered legends in the world of music. Wonder was born blind, as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer he first signed with Motown Records at the age of 11.
Since that time Standberry reports: “Wonder has been able to produce more than 30 top ten hits in the U.S. Ray Charles, Standberry tells: “plays piano, sings, and acts, all while being blind. Though not born blind, his eyesight started to deteriorate around age five, and he was completely blind when he turned seven.” Like Wonder, Charles also won several Grammy Awards and both men have won Life Time Achievement Awards and both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Film and TV Performers
The performance arts have a remarkable list of diverse people who have overcome a disability and have gone on to successful careers and have entertained and amazed us for years. On stage and screen, though dance, portraying real and imaginary characters, these people have made their talent overshadow their challenges. It is impossible to do fair justice to these showmen but it is hoped some of the links supplied will shine a light on the skills they possess.
While growing up the farthest thing on my radar was an interest in the Arts especially dance and performing arts. Now as an adult I have gained an appreciation for visual arts, with interest in the works of people such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Rubens, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and other painters, but Performance Arts has never been in my field of vision. Yet through the studies of disabilities, the possibilities for self-expression offered by dance and stage performances are intriguing.
At first glance, there was a great feeling of admiration for the athleticism of the performers, the grace, and the flow of the movements. Watching You-Tube performances by Anjali Dance Company and Axis Dance Company one can easily become lost in the presentation and forgetful of the disabilities and, most importantly, the messages being conveyed through the performance. Performance art presented by the disabled portrays messages that are subject to the interpretations of the audience.
Personally, one of the more captivating performances comes from the National Theater of the Deaf or the Deaf West Theater. It’s hard to imagine a deaf theater performance, but the combination of hand movement, facial expressions, and movements are magical together. Through this performance of beauty and grace, there may not be a better example of self-expression.
The need for humans of all types to have an opportunity to self-express is part of our makeup. In the area of visual arts, maybe best exampled by considering Henri Matisse, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest impressionist artists. His desire for self-expression continued even when ill health prevented him from painting, in his final years he turned to paper cutting and collages and creating some of his most important works.
Stigmas and feelings of isolation have often been a constant companion for those living with a disability. Marija Bern of the Bored Panda web site staff wrote: “Around 10 percent of the total world’s population or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability according to Disability Statistics’ annual report.”
Bern continues saying: “From artists painting with their mouths to blind photographers – these disabled people are truly an inspiration. Living with conditions most can’t imagine, they often use this art as a way to communicate with the world.” The human need for self-expression becomes evident once one explores these works.
As mainstreaming increases, so to will come acceptance increase, and the desensitizing of cultures as they become increasingly familiar with people who are disabled. With each new generation as the previous one fades away, tolerance is increasing. Baby boomers are far more tolerant than their parents. The baby boomer’s children even more so, the acceptance and recognition of the abilities of the disabled and is far more acceptable now than for those of the World War II era.
It may be hard to believe that some of the most talented people deal with disabilities in their lives every day, living with and adjusting to situations the rest cannot imagine living with, yet have taken their talents and artistries and put them to use as a means of self-expression and to communicate feelings with the world.
With some guidance and encouragement and using a variety of methods, the results of these efforts are magnificent. Many of the artists paint with their hands, but others with their mouths or their feet. Many are blind or suffer from mental disabilities yet the drive for self-expression produces some of the most beautiful and intricate work anyone can imagine.
As the WebdesignerDepot comments on their website: “Their achievements are arguably epic in the face of the adversity that they face.
We hope that the artists in this post inspire your designs and make you look at adversity in any field as a surmountable obstacle.”
Bern, Marija. (2020). We Can’t Believe What These 37 Artists Can Do Despite Their Disabilities. Retrieved from:https://www.boredpanda.com/
Ableism is defined as, “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” Ableism is most often associated with disabilities, but it can also be applied to people who we call seniors in our society.
One question which may come to mind is, who set the retirement age at 65? The answer may be somewhat of a surprise. On his blog, Tim Kastelle posted, “The age of 65 was originally selected as the time for retirement by the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismark of Germany when he introduced a social security system to appeal to the German working class and combat the power of the Socialist Party in Germany during the late 1800s. Somewhat cynically, Bismark knew that the program would cost little because the average German worker never reached 65, and many of those who did, lived only a few years beyond that age. When the United States finally passed a social security law in 1935 (more than 55 years after the conservative German chancellor introduced it in Germany), the average life expectancy in America was only 61.7 years.” Today, after more than 80 years, the department of social security calculates,
“A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.”
Many of us spend considerable time planning for retirement at 65, but for many, it may not turn out to be all we expected. People come out of retirement for many reasons and in an article on The Street web site Kathryn Tuggle lists five of the most common:
“Pursue an encore career. An encore career allows retirees to pursue a profession that may boost their financial stability while also providing personal fulfillment.
Have a purpose. A recent Encore.org study revealed more than 4.5 million people between the ages of 50 and 70 are involved in encore careers. Popular sectors for these careers include public service, education, or other opportunities that allow people to give back.
Stay physically active. Very few people plan to retire and just do nothing. Oftentimes people who leave the workforce find that they not only miss the routine of having somewhere to be every morning but also crave the physical exercise associated with climbing stairs, walking around the office, or traveling to meetings and conferences.
Understand your financial need. Some retirees may not need additional funds for themselves but may go back to work due to unexpected family expenses.
Keep the mind sharp. Doctors recommend that retirees keep their minds active to avoid premature memory loss. According to the Center on Longevity at Stanford University, work plays a key role in keeping the mind functioning optimally.”
So does being past retirement age mean we have no longer have value in the workplace? Maybe we should be asking that question of former President Jimmy Carter, who, now in his 90’s, is still active in “Habitat for Humanity,” while fighting cancer, and if that wasn’t enough still remains politically active. Or maybe we might want to consider the late professor Stephen Hawking who passed away at 72 and despite his age and a debilitating illness, continued teaching as well as working on his theories relating to the universe. These are just two famous examples of why hiring practices need revision. No one knows how much talent and knowledge has been lost due to the practice of ableism. These underutilized workers are a potentially untapped resource of talent.
The US Dept. of labor posted the following information relating the employment rates for people with a disability:
April 2018 Disability Employment Statistics Ages 16 years and over
Labor Force Participation
People with disabilities: 20.9%
People without disabilities: 68.3%
People with disabilities: 8.0%
People without disabilities: 3.5%
It is important to recognize that what is missing in these statistics is the number of talented individuals with a disability who have simply given up trying to find work or are forced to rely on family members to subsidize what they receive from social programs. In his book, Hidden Talent, Mark Lengnick-Hall wrote: “Most people with disabilities want to work. Sixty-seven percent of people with disabilities who are unemployed say they prefer to be working” (p. 3)
On their website, the Pew Research Center states: “As the year 2011 began on Jan. 1, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. In fact, on that day, today, and for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. The aging of this huge cohort of Americans (26% of the total U.S. population are Baby Boomers) will dramatically change the composition of the country. Currently, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the Baby Boom generation have reached that age, fully 18% of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. But don’t tell Baby Boomers that they are old. The typical Boomer believes that old age does not begin until age 72”.
What is interesting is that one of the concerns with this mass retirement is the possibility of a business Brain Drain. By Brain Drain, we are referring to the loss of those skilled employees who have experience and have been successful at their jobs. They are a potential resource.
When exploring the potential of employees, perhaps one great loss to the workforce and society is the 60%+ people with disabilities who are unemployed. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans or 20% of the population has a disability. Lengnick-Hall states: “72% of working people with disabilities have high school diplomas or a higher education. However, of those with a college degree, 55% are unemployed, compared to 14% of college-educated people without disabilities.”
Why don’t more employers hire people with disabilities? Some of the reasons are based on ignorance, some are based on stereotyping or prejudice. Many of the reasons date back to the industrial revolution where the value was placed on physical abilities. The age of the assembly line brought long hours of strenuous work, and any sort of industrial accident resulting in a disability went unforgiven.
There are many negative attitudes or misunderstandings about hiring a person with a disability such as:
Many employers believe that hiring people with disabilities will result in higher costs in health insurance claims.
Employees with disabilities have more accidents at work.
Employees with disabilities are less productive compared to non-disabled employees.
There is an increase in sick time and a lack of reliability among employees with disabilities.
The cost of associated complying with accessibilities and job accommodations out weights the value of hiring such employees.
Many companies use the strategy of ignoring applicants with disabilities in favor of the non-disabled applicants. Lengnick-Hall warns: ”Of course the potential costs of such a strategy include getting sued for discrimination, loss of reputation in the community resulting in bad publicity, and perhaps loss of customers with disabilities who find other companies with whom to do business”. (p. 5)
The Jobs Accommodation Network (JAN) has been involved in ongoing research for many years and; “the study results consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make ($0), while the rest of the accommodations made had a typically cost only $500”.
This all comes down to, in many cases, business just focusing on the cost of workplace accommodations, which is shown to be low cost, but have high returns. There are organizations out there like JAN that help employers with accommodation concerns and remind business owners that the ADA prohibits discrimination based on assumptions, stereotypes, or any myths or presumption an employer may have about hiring people with disabilities. Business also should be aware the EEOC is targeting these cases.
Before we can begin to have equal opportunity in employment it is important to realize that currently little is being done to cause effective change. The current efforts have done little to bring about change in attitudes and hiring practices. As reported by in Ability Magazine: “Numeric goals being set by companies to hire so-many of this type of person, and so-many of another type, work only to create a foundation for future failure”.
It may seem like a simple matter to hire people from a minority group, but it is a different matter to treat them the same as you would any other employee. The answer to this dilemma is to create an environment of inclusiveness, which is to include many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally.
Working towards inclusiveness is not necessarily an easy task for a business to accomplish. Changing begins with management, they set the tone with trust and respect. From the start, business owners and managers must be ensured they want to create an inclusive environment for the right reasons. If the goal is only to appear as a positive and progressive business or to meet quotas, so as not to find yourself in court with the EEOC, failure will be the result.
However, referring back to the Ability magazine article: “if you want to truly be a part of a positive future, to benefit from the life experience and skills of all people, regardless of sex, gender or whether they have a disability, then your company will reap the benefits. Culture is key. To reach true inclusiveness, work toward cultural change to find the path to truly combat discrimination.”
The simplest step is to hire people with disabilities, but do it for their skills which your business can use. Following that then take the next step not just to meet any accommodations, but as with all employees, they are made part of the team and show thoughtful consideration and respect for them and their ideas and suggestions. Let their voice be heard.
One last comment from Ability magazine, which reports: “Companies that were the most inclusive of disabled persons attained 28% higher revenue, 30% greater profit margins, and twice the net income of their peers during a study period of 2015 through 2018.”
Not only can rethinking hiring practices the right thing to do, but as Mar Sagar wrote in his blog: “`doing the right thing’ can frequently turn out to be a profitable business decision.”
Now that the primaries are over it is time to begin preparing for the elections in November. As an important portion of the American voting population, it is vital that those voters living with a disability recognize that their vote is powerful and an important voice.
Voting, as Kay Maxwell defines: “Voting is a process by which a person or group of people expresses an opinion formally or officially”. She continues on to say: “voting usually refers to the act of citizens choosing candidates for public office or deciding on public issues and laws. In the United States, people vote at the local, state, and federal (national) levels”.
Historical Background on the Right to Vote
As a young country with a population of about 4 million people eligible to vote it seems only about .03% or 120,000 actually voted. At that time, voting was restricted to free white males who were property owners and who met particular religious prerequisites.
By the 1860’s voting rights became more extensive with nearly every state allowing all white males, 21 years old or older, voting rights.
At the end of the Civil War the 15th Amendment to the Constitution provided for voting rights for all men regardless of race. It would not be until the passage of the 1965 Voting rights Act that blacks truly gained the right to vote in the South.
After a long political fight in 1920, women won the right to vote with the addition of 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1971 the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 years of age.
It should be explained that prior to the Civil War voting was not private. People would vote by a show of hands or voice their choice out loud. The introduction of print ballots became popular after the war, but these were often in different colors and shapes which signified the different candidates. It was not until the 1890s that use of Australian ballot, where all the candidates were printed on one ballot by the government that voting became truly secret. For those living with disabilities voting rights, sadly, have been slow in coming. As records illustrated on the US Department of Justice website: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) contains provisions relevant to the voting rights of people with
disabilities. The VRA requires election officials to allow a voter who is blind or has another disability to receive assistance from a person of the voter’s choice (other than the voter’s employer or its agent or an officer or agent of voters union). The VRA also prohibits conditioning the right to vote on a citizen being able to read or write, attaining a particular level of education, or passing an interpretation ‘test’ “.
The Voting Accessibility for Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (VAEHA) was passed. This act required accessible polling places for federal elections for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Additionally, voters are to be provided with alternate means of voting on Election Day.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provided protection for people with disabilities similar to those for individuals based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religious beliefs. The ADA title II requires State and Local governments (public entities) to ensure that people with disabilities have equal and full opportunity to vote. Title II of the ADA applies to all aspects of voting, including voter registration, site selection, and casting of ballots. This applies not only to Election Day, but during any early voting process.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) among other things, the aim is to increase the historically low registration rates among persons with disabilities. The act also provides for public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities to also provide the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires jurisdictions responsible for conducting federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for persons with disabilities at each polling place in federal elections. The accessible voting system must provide the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence that other voters receive.
As of September 15, 2015 polling officials may allow those with a physical disability or a voter over the age of 70 to move to the front of the line at polling places if requested by the voter.
In 2020 Senator Bob Casey (PA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) have introduced the Accessible Voting Act (AVA), meant to address the needs of voters with disabilities and to ensure they have equal access to the vote on Election Day and beyond. See: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/s3206
You are Not a Second Class Citizen
On the CDC website it is reported that: “one in 4 U.S. adults-61 million Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities.” Yet according to the website www.aapd.com: “16 million people with disabilities voted in the November 2016 election.” That equates to approximately 26.3% of the American population living with a disability.
Despite all of the history of struggles for equality in voting and the resulting changes, the website governing.com finds: “voting among the disabled is on the decline.” In the face of all the important issues confronting all US voters in the past elections, it is disheartening that voter turnout for those who may be affected the most by many of these issues is on the decline.
What is causing this lack of enthusiasm? There is much speculation as to why voter turnout for the disabled is on the decline. In an article written by Matt Vasilogambros, he has found barriers or lack of accessibility and untrained poll workers are the biggest contributors. Vasilogambros quotes Michelle Bishop, a voting rights advocate, for the Nation Disability Rights Network who reveals: “under increasing pressure to oversee a smooth, secure election, untrained poll workers have discouraged the use of accessible voting machines, leaving voters with disabilities behind.” Bishop also recalls: “in the last election, for example, a voter called her to report that a machine was placed in the corner, turned off, with a flower wreath hung on it.” Bishop was believes: “The message is: You’re not wanted here.”
“A study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), found that nearly two-thirds of the 137 polling places inspected on Election Day 2016 had at least one impediment to people with disabilities. In 2008 presidential election, it was fewer than half. The GAO also reported that State inspectors of voting accessibility had fallen nationally over the same time”, Vasilogambros wrote.
Vasilogambros goes on to disclose that: “Among the infractions: The accessible voting machine wasn’t set up and powered on, the earphones weren’t functioning, the voting system wasn’t wheelchair-accessible, or the voting system didn’t provide the same privacy as standard voting stations.”
The bottom line here is simple, it’s not that complicated. If you’re disabled, you are NOT a second class citizen, it’s time for you to speak up, voting is your right and so many issues apply to you. It is time for you to self-advocate, raise a stink, call your representatives and call the US Department of Justice to demand your rights, if, for any reason, you are unable to vote. Don’t just complain about the system or the people in charge if you’re not willing to do something. Remember so many before you fought for your rights; this year is the thirtieth anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, let the world know, show them what you’re worth, make yourself known, it’s your turn.
U,S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section (September 2014). The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm