People with Disabilities


There are 54 million individuals with some level of disability (physical or mental), of whom 35 million have a disability that severely affects daily functioning.

Rates of disability are higher among African Americans (26.4%) and American Indian/Alaska Native groups (27%) compared with non-Hispanic Whites (16.2%).


Myths Associated with People with Disabilities:

  1. Most are in wheelchairs. Among the millions of people with disabilities, only about 10% use wheelchairs, crutches, or walkers. Most have more invisible disabilities, such as cardiovascular problems, arthritis, and rheumatism, back and spine problems, hearing impairment, asthma, epilepsy, neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., academic or intellectual impairment), and mental illness.
  2. People with disabilities are a drain on the economy. It is true that many individuals of working age with disabilities are not working. However, the majority of those who are unemployed want to work. Discrimination often hampers their efforts to join the workforce.
  3. Employees with disabilities have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities. Studies have found that employees with disabilities may actually have fewer attendance problems than non-disabled employees.
  4. The greatest barriers to people with disabilities are physical ones. In actuality, negative attitudes and stereotypes are the greatest impediments and the most difficult to change.
  5. Persons who have disabilities are brave and courageous. Individuals with disabilities react to situations like anyone else does. They demonstrate a variety of emotional reactions in adapting to their condition. Some adapt well, whereas others have more difficulty coping.
  6. Government health insurance covers people with disabilities. Many disabled individuals have private insurance, whereas a smaller number have no health insurance. Medicaid provides coverage for only a small percentage, usually those with extreme disability.


Tips for Working with Individuals with Disabilities

  • Identify your beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes about individuals with disabilities.
  • Understand the prejudice, discrimination, inconveniences, and barriers faced by individuals with disabilities and the problems faced by individuals with “invisible” disabilities.
  • Assess the impact of multiple discrimination on ethnic minorities and other diverse populations.
  • Employ the appropriate communication format, and address the client directly rather than through conversation with an accompanying individual.
  • Recognize that family members and other social supports are important. Include them in your work with individuals with disabilities.



The above was adapted from the following:

Sue, D. W. & Sue, D. (2013). Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice. (6th edition). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

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