Understanding Yourself

As you become an adult, you gain more and more opportunities and responsibilities. Between school, work, relationships, and social activities, you probably wonder how to juggle everything. As you deal with these issues, you also have to reflect on your disability, what it means to you, and how you manage it in day-to-day life.

Here is a worksheet you can fill out to help you start to think about how you think about your disability and how your disability fits into to your life.

Disability Worksheet

Think about these questions. You may want to discuss them with a family member or a mentor.

How do I feel about being a person with a disability?

Do I feel comfortable talking about my disability with others?

Do I think that having a disability is something to be proud of?

Whom in my life can I trust when I need to talk about my disability?

What are some aspects of living with a disability that I struggle with? What resources are out there to help me through those struggles?

What are some activities that I want to do that I think I cannot do? Is there another way of doing the activity that would work for me?

What are some things I can do that my friends cannot do?

To print this worksheet, click here.

It’s natural to feel uncomfortable with your disability or unsure about whom to talk to about it. As you read this article, we’ll try to give you information and resources that can help you feel more comfortable and confident and will help you find people who can support you.

The Medical Model and the Social Model

Our perceptions of disability are shaped by the portrayals and reactions to disability in our society. Traditionally, people have thought about disability as a medical issue. The “medical model” looks at your disability as though it is a medical condition that must be cured. If you have a disability, you need to be “fixed.”

However, the disability rights movement has changed that perspective during the last 50 years, proposing that disability be viewed as a social issue. The “social model” says that the problem is not your disability, but the way society views people with disabilities. In the social model, disability is a natural part of the human experience; it’s a normal part of life.

Thinking about disability in this new way may help you realize that you don’t need to be fixed. You can live with your disability and be successful. What you need is to find ways of getting a job, getting a higher education, and pursuing your dreams.

Making Decisions for Yourself

In the past, a lot of people with disabilities were considered “burdens” to their families. People with disabilities couldn’t get jobs, many were sent to institutions where they couldn’t go out and do things, or they were simply ignored.

However, that’s changed. Today, many people with disabilities succeed at school and at their jobs. You can, too. Just like your nondisabled friends, as you become an adult, you need to make decisions and start planning so that you can succeed. Making your own choices about what you want to do is your first step toward leading an independent life.

Independent Living

For you, independent living could mean many different things. It could mean moving out of your parent’s home and going to college. Or it could mean getting a job and moving into your own apartment. The biggest thing independence means is that you decide where you want to go in life.

Independent living does not mean that you have to know all the answers or do everything by yourself; it means that you need to learn how to find resources that can help you reach your goals. You also need to learn to be in charge of how you use these resources.

If you don’t have clear goals yet, you’ll need to think about what you really want to do. Then, you need to set goals and learn about the steps and support necessary to achieve them.

Use Your Independent Living Center!

Independent living may sound scary, but there are many people with disabilities who have gone through similar situations as your own. They have created groups called “independent living centers” that offer information and support that can help you think about the decisions and opportunities facing you.

Independent living centers are one of the most important resources that can help you with independent living. Your local Independent Living Center has information about all aspects of living with a disability, including housing, transportation, personal attendant services, employment, education, and benefits. Many independent living centers also have programs designed for young people, like peer groups and volunteer and internship opportunities.

Ed Roberts and the Independent Living Movement

Nowadays, people with disabilities live in their own homes, graduate from college, work at good jobs, get married, and have children. In large part, this is thanks to laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.

But this did not happen overnight. People with disabilities didn’t use to have the opportunities and legal protections they have today. It took a movement led by young people with disabilities to change society’s perception of people with disabilities.

Ed Roberts was a young disabled leader who changed the world. As a child, he got polio, a common disease in the 1950s. As a result, he had to use a wheelchair and also spent a lot of time in an iron lung, a machine that helped him breathe. Despite these challenges, Ed excelled in school and dreamed of attending UC Berkeley. However, when he applied to the university, he was told that the university did not want him because he was disabled. Ed fought this and won, gaining admission to the university.

When Ed saw how inaccessible the university was to students with disabilities, he decided to change things. He and a few other students in wheelchairs formed a group called “The Rolling Quads” and created the very first disabled student services program on a college campus. Today almost every college and university in the country has a disabled student services program that helps students with things like personal care attendant referral, in-class accommodations, and accessible housing. In 1972, Ed Roberts and others founded the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, the first independent living center in the country. Today there are independent living centers around the world, including dozens in California.

Read more about independent living in the Youth Transition Toolkit.