Understanding Disabilities

There is a great need for the services that LIFEDesigns and other similar providers offer.

The accepted definitions of disability have been changing during the past 40 years.  In the 1970s, the concept of a disability referred to an underlying physical or mental condition. Today, disability is seen as a complex interaction between a person and their environment. It includes emotional, physical, intellectual, and sensory impairments that create barriers to participation in everyday life.  It is the largest minority. Anyone can join this minority group. In places where the lifespan is over 70 years, people spend on average 8 years – 11.5% of their life span – living with disabilities (Disabled World).

Today, we know there are over 41 million people in the US with disabilities, representing 12.7% of the population (2019 American Community Survey).

Living With Disabilities

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities are substantial problems in mental or physical functioning, with onset before the age of 22 and of indefinite duration. Examples include autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and intellectual disabilities.  More than 1 in 6 children in the US had a developmental disability between 2015-2018 (CDC).  Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability. One in 54 children was diagnosed with autism in 2016, compared with 1 in 88 in 2011.

Mental illnesses

Mental illnesses are serious medical conditions. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.

An estimated 20% of US adults had any mental illness in 2019 (NAMI). The World Health Organization reported that Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world (2021).


  • People with disabilities are overwhelmingly poor, two times more likely to live at or below the poverty level.
  • A two-way link between poverty and disability creates a vicious circle. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability due to lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation, safe living and working conditions. Once this occurs, people face barriers to the education, employment, and public services that can help them escape poverty.


17.9% of people with a disability were employed in 2020, compared to 61.8% of people without a disability (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

One of the most common reasons employers give for not hiring is fear of costly accommodations. However,

most (56%) of accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing to implement, while the rest have a median cost of $500.

Department of Labor (2020)

Companies who hire report their employees with disabilities have better retention rates, reducing the high cost of turnover.  Other surveys show the retention rate after one year of employment for those workers is 85%.


  • The U.S. Surgeon General reports 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States have serious emotional and mental disorders causing significant problems in school and with peers.
  • Only 9% of children who have delays at 9 months receive early intervention and at 24 months only 12% (NETAC, 2011).


  • Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence, according to a 2004 study, and less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection or preventive care.
  • Research indicates that violence against children with disabilities occurs at annual rates at least 1.7 times greater than for their peers without disabilities.


In 2021 the average person receiving supplemental security income (a program for individuals with disabilities in need) paid 128% of their monthly income to rent a one bedroom unit (TAC).

Since 1998, the housing affordability gap for people with disabilities has almost doubled as the cost of rental property has increased (Priced Out, 2010).

Unfortunately, in the state and across the nation, the funding does not match the need.

  • The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute reported in February 2010 that 50% of states have cut mental health services and reduced the number of people served during the recession.  Indiana cut $4.1 million since 2009.
  • Since 2009, there has been an approximate 20% reduction in services for people currently in services funded by the Medicaid Waiver, a program that provides community based non-institutional supports to help them live at home with their families or move into supported living arrangements within the community.  Without these supports, these individuals could be forced into nursing homes or other more expensive living options.
  • Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
  • Studies have shown that early intervention for children with developmental disabilities leads to gains in all areas and reduces the likelihood of the need for special education services (National Technical Assistance Center, 2011).

Learn how you can help LIFEDesigns continue to provide these much needed services to our clients with disabilities for years to come: go to our SUPPORT page to find out more.