Reflections

Shatner, the Senior Tsunami, and Coming Full Circle

“You will too be disabled one day.” This is the dirty phrase in the disability advocates circle. Many of us, with good reason, don’t like to use it. Abled people should be invested in the independence and dignity of disabled people regardless of the possibility they may be at the mercy of the same physicality, stereotypes, and policies. But, human behavior doesn’t work that way—especially in the United States. Many don’t concern themselves with disability inclusion and advocacy until it personally affects them, even if there are those in their families with disabilities.

It can be like living in a parallel world—one similar to the one abled people are familiar with but harder to navigate due to their complete ignorance. It can feel futile to try to explain to people that they need to pay attention to your accessibility needs when they’re looking at the same obstacles you see and calling them “ inconveniences ” you simply need to bootstrap and overcome.

A screenshot of Bill Shatner's tweet saying "You adapt tp society, not vice versa and nothing can be done about that" with the quoted tweet saying "@WilliamShatner thinks it's "brainwashed" for autistic people to seek to create a society that accommodates their needs instead of wanting a cure."

Recently, Bill Shatner echoed this overcoming sentiment when he essentially told an autistic person that they need to overcome society’s obstacles rather than expecting anything about society to change to meet their needs. This type of apathetic, ignorant statement has haunted disabled people for decades. And, now with the largest population of seniors aging into disability, their thoughts on disability will haunt them too. Literally. Many disabled people cannot come to terms with their identity and barriers to accessibility because they feel as though inaccessibility and the way they’re treated is completely their fault. Depression and anxiety have high comorbidities within the community.

I know saying this will make me a bad advocate, but I’m kind of glad that the population who has stuck us with many of the bad policies, perceptions, and lack of access will now feel the effects of their own ignorance. (Oops, I’m not supposed to say that aloud)

There is no “overcoming” in a world meant to ignore your existence and put a price tag on your life.

While many think they have prepared for their senior existence, studies have shown that the population dubbed “The Senior Tsunami,” for the most part are not financially prepared for their future. Many have not recovered from the last recession and another seems to be looming. But, financial plans are not the only types of preparations needing to be made. Their accessibility needs to be considered as well.

Many Boomers saw property as a safe investment but even given that one was to survive the last financial crisis relatively unscathed, millennials saddled with student debt having lived through seeing their parents’ struggle are not looking at real estate in the same way their parents did. Passing that investment on to the next generation and releasing that asset to invest in more accessible housing with medical protections may not be as easy as they think.

And, it’s not merely their own home accessibility that’s up in the air, its public access as well. When disabled people called for more accountability with ADA requirements for small businesses, conservative boomers backed the businesses in a campaign that made accessibility seem like something “nice to have.” When advocates called for more accessibility in polling stations, we felt like we were talking to a wall. Everything from their ability to handle their own finances to grocery shopping to voting will change or maybe off-limits to them entirely.

If seniors think that these obstacles will be easy to sidestep by hiring a home care aid, I have news on that front: those positions are grossly understaffed and in a crisis state in much of the country. So, good luck with that.

I would say that all of this could be easily remedied, but the truth is that I haven’t mentioned even a tenth of the issues disabled people deal with. These are just some of the most concrete. I haven’t even touched upon the societal and structural biases Boomers will encounter.

I guess now is the time when I assure you that this situation is easy to ameliorate. What if we just banded together to vote on progressive policies, it will all be ok. But, here it comes full circle: you’re going to have to check to see if your polling place is accessible first. Maybe you should have listened to disabled people when access wasn’t your worry. It’s ok, maybe you’ll overcome it.

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