Navigating Through Life as a Millennial with a Disability
So, I am a Millennial living with a disability. I often think about how my life is different from a person with disabilities in my grandparents’ (Silent) and my parents’ (Baby Boomer) generations.
The Silent Generation were focused on their careers due to the critical need of living through and recovering from the impacts of war and the depression era. They were also encouraged as a society to conform with social norms and expectations. So people with disabilities were often kept at home, more readily sent to institutions and really did not have any of the supportive services that exist today – even the chance, like children without disabilities did, to attend school.
Baby Boomers were different than the Silent Generation and are often associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional social values. So it makes sense that they got the ball rolling on embracing integration into society of people with disabilities. Parents, like my parents, wanted me to have all the opportunities to achieve my full potential and did a lot to do that. It does remind me that although a lot was made possible for many including myself, there has been positive change but there is a long way to go.
The Millennial Generation “born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s speak their minds when needed and invest their time and money in education, work to fulfill their personal goals and aspirations because they have worked hard for them”. How can Canadian society make more necessary positive changes to support Millennials with disabilities? Being an accomplished, university educated and independent Millennial in 2017 is a far cry from where I know I would have been if I was born in the Silent or Baby Boomer Generations. I know I am very lucky. These accomplishments are great but like my Millennial counterparts and particularly those with disabilities, these opportunities and accomplishments have come with other challenges that are similar to previous generations or are new because of the Millennial Generation. . Having the responsibility of student loans, rent, rapid global and technological change and an increasingly unstable, competitive job market have become challenges that many Millennials have faced. This has become an even greater challenge for those Millennials with disabilities. Many Millennials with disabilities are in a transition period; this means they are trying to integrate themselves into the workforce and living independently following the path forged by Baby Boomers. This means that they are focused on themselves and their goals in an environment that is hugely competitive in abilities and with individuals of multiple generations”.
The Millennial Generation has come to be known as the ‘me’ centered generation. With this backdrop, and growing up in an integrated culture with accessibility and adaptive supports, Millennials with disabilities are also known as part of the generation that is the “most outspoken, educated, individually focused and entitled”. Millennials with disabilities also face “stigmas associated with being disabled. Such stigmas include feelings that individuals living with disabilities are both inferior and ignorant, or they deserved to be pitied. These stigmas are skewed because one of the only things Millennials with and without disabilities strive to achieve is to be accepted by society”.
Just like the Silent Generation interacting with the exasperatingly disruptive Baby Boomer Generation so it goes with the Millennials. Older generations and other members of society need to work with the Millennials with disabilities and provide support so they are able to become active and contributing members of society. “These supports should include work and living opportunities outside of their homes. This generation has had the most opportunities for self-advocacy, individualized planning and the abilities to use their own voices in the history of the disabled community”. As well, previous and upcoming generations need the support and involvement of Millennials with disabilities to help them with adapting and addressing opportunities and challenges of those with disabilities. Here are some ways that Millennial with disabilities have adapted to challenges:
Baby-Boomers vs. Millennials: Generations such as Baby Boomers “would have probably done the same if they had the tools and attitude that the Millennial Generation has today. Unfortunately for them, they were born to soon to advocate for large societal changes. The Millennial Generation has had the privilege of growing up with amazing technological developments. Millennials who are living with disabilities have the opportunities of getting a university or college degree, travelling independently, getting the jobs they want and living where and how they want as if nothing can hold them back. Those apart of the Millennial with disabilities have been very outspoken and has ensured people that Millennials with disabilities will successfully integrate themselves into local communities and the Canadian workplace”.
Customizing their environments: The part of the Millennial Generation that is living with a disability, “have learned to customize their environments to fit their needs and new technology is providing the ability to do so. There has been more flexibility and freedom in areas such as education because of technological advancements. These advances have facilitated many changes in policies relating to providing services as individualized as possible”. The Millennial Generation is open-minded and promote inclusion; “they have grown-up in classrooms, playing sports and participating in other social activities with peers who have intellectual and other disabilities. The current generation of Millennials with disabilities is the most accepted population in history. Their able minded and bodied peers who are civic-minded and philanthropic, most of all believe they are equal and should be treated with respect”.
Millennials with disabilities have dreams and goals too: Family members, friends and other members of society have been told that they too can have dreams and can make their own choices and decisions and have taught Millennials with disabilities that they too are deserving of these things. “These preferences can include; who they spend their time with, how they spend their time and where they spend their time. They have also learned that they have a choice, and technology has given them more opportunity to communicate their choices. This creates a better ability to find out what is important to the Millennial Generation and how the are and need to be supported. All humans reserve the right to make bad choices after hearing good advice; Millennials with disabilities deserve the same opportunities”.
Opportunities for Millennials with Disabilities: As Millennials with disabilities communicate how they want to live; there needs to be resources and opportunities available that assist people with disabilities achieve the way they choose to live and “help them have the control to maintain it. The Millennial Generation doesn’t believe in being shackled to tradition or location, which is ideal for young adults with physical disabilities who want to participate but were previously unable to due to physical limitations and access to physical locations”.
Challenges for Millennials with Disabilities: Several of the challenges Millennials with disabilities can arise because of their choices. “The programs that have and were created to assist the disabled population are old and out of date. The funding sources are too generic and do not allow enough customization and control by the individual. Due to the people, agencies and government programs that have been implemented to assist people with disabilities, the budgets and programs do not take every individual and their disability into account. The current funding and programs set aside to assist people with disabilities need to be revamped and new funding needs to be created and set aside specifically for people with disabilities. Agencies and programs need to also revamp their community based services and supports to assist people with disabilities. Person-centered planning needs to be an billable service focusing on management care, independent plan of assessment and authorized services, which ensure that the social, environmental and physical needs of the Millennials with disabilities are met”.
An important issue that previous generations with disabilities have always had to face is “exclusion or the segregated environments they often live in, they were often disconnected from their communities or the general population. On the other hand, the Millennial Generation is extremely ‘connected’ through social media and other communication apps; this new technology brings Millennials with disabilities into the mainstream more easily. In many cases, Millennials are not connected in real time, face to face, but are social in virtual space. This is an asset to those with disabilities who find it more difficult accessing physical spaces due to their disabilities”.
So you can imagine, discussions with my grandparents and parents about the similarities and differences between our generations have been interesting and colourful. The discussions naturally identified the aspects shared in this blog. It is encouraging to know that there is positive change ahead for Millennials with disabilities but I know that is will not always be an easy journey!