I am a 22-year-old woman with Cerebral Palsy. Figuring out adulthood while living with a physical disability has been challenging. Despite being an adult, people sometimes treat me like a child. During my freshman year of college the dining hall staff would often talk to my PCA rather than me. Cerebral Palsy doesn’t mean that I am incapable of ordering my lunch. I am 22-years-old, so please talk to me like any other adult. I am capable of answering questions and having conversations with people.
In 2020, I worked with a PT who would talk to my PCA rather than me. This was frustrating to me, and I requested not to see her again. This happens to me in other places too such as restaurants. If I didn’t have Cerebral Palsy, would people ask my non-disabled friend what I wanted to eat?
I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I knew that I wanted to go to college by the time I was in elementary school. I knew that I wanted to work for a living and have a meaningful career. I wanted to enjoy my career, and be able to make a difference in people’s lives.
When I was growing up, I wanted to work in the medical field. As someone with CP, I knew that doctors, nurses and other medical providers were important to help me live life to the fullest. I wanted a chance to help other people with disabilities like me. As I’ve grown up, my ambitions have changed. One day, I hope to be an author or a journalist. I’d love to be able to make a living pursuing one of my passions.
People are often surprised when I talk about my hopes for the future. They are surprised that I want to work, and get married someday. For a 22-year-old without Cerebral Palsy, these hopes and dreams aren’t unusual. Does society have such low expectations for adults with disabilities that wanting to work, and get married is too much to ask for?
Unfortunately the statistics also show this. In 2018, an estimated 34.2 percent of non-institutionalized persons with disabilities aged 21 to 64 years in the United States had a high school diploma or equivalent. In addition, according to the most recent data, the average graduation rate for students with disabilities was 67.1 percent. This is 17.5 percentage points lower than the overall graduation rate of 84.6 percent. Sadly, this is also the case when it comes to employment. In 2021, 19.1 percent of people with disabilities worked in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Society needs to understand that disabled children grow up. We don’t magically outgrow our disabilities when we turn 18. Disabled people of all ages deserve equal opportunities. Despite our disabilities we can enjoy our lives and be productive just like anyone else.
“Data on Disabilities .” National School Boards Association , National School Boards Association , 1 Apr. 2019, https://www.nsba.org/ASBJ/2019/April/Graduation-Rates-Students-Disabilities.
Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2022). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org
“Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary – 2021.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.