Adjust the text

Study: Older Disabled People Ask For Equal Treatment

 

Older Canadians with disabilities are failing to get the support they need, according to a new Quebéc study.

The three-year research project examined participation from the perspective of older people with disabilities. The study sought to understand how people with lifelong physical disabilities viewed their participation in society and how they went about initiating change.

The Photo-Novel Project was initiated and implemented by Carrefour familial des personnes handicapées, a local community group in Québec City, Canada.

Émilie Raymond and Amanda Grenier reported their findings in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of Aging Studies.

The Photo-Novel Project

How did the project work?

The project drew on the everyday experiences of 12 older people with physical disabilities, including three paraplegics and one quadriplegic, several people with hearing and/or visual impairments and one person born with cerebral paralysis.

To start, the participants created fictionalized accounts of their everyday lives. These individual stories were then rolled into a collective fictionalized account, transformed into a series of short graphic novels and produced as a glossy magazine. This magazine was distributed to organizations working with older people and people with disabilities.

As a second step, the participants shared accounts of their everyday lives with policy-makers and members of the public in a series of events organized by Carrefour.

Participation

The new research showed that participants' impairments did not prevent them from becoming professionals, having families and engaging is a wide range of social and educational activities.

As Réal explained:

When we see a person with disabilities that did something good or achieved a goal, we consider him or her a superman or a superwoman. But in fact, this is just normal. This person has a job, a partner, a family and succeeds to cope with life almost like everybody else. . . . There is nothing extraordinary about that.

Two visually-impaired participants demonstrated how they used technical aids to engage in mainstream life. They emphasized the aids are only a small part of their life.

Several noted the needs they shared with older people in general, such as the need to maintain healthy habits. "You can do something by yourselves to stay in shape. You can eat well, exercise, not smoke," Rachel said. "There is something to do to age well"

On the margins

At the same time, the participants reported feeling marginalized, excluded from mainstream activities and a burden on society.

Even the need for accommodation in everyday activities was considered burdensome. For instance, Lise was excluded from volunteering because the person in charge found it too complicated to accommodate her hearing impairment.

The study found several examples of how participants' physical impairments prevented them from accessing senior activities in the community. A sound system for the hearing impaired may be required, or playing cards may be adapted for visual impairments.

"It is just not accepted," one participant said. "We are being told to stay in our [disability] associations."

A call to action

These older people claim participation is essential to engaged citizenship and an active social life. They want to be treated as persons, first – not simply reduced to their disabilities.

They are demanding community awareness-raising activities to foster more inclusive communities. "We need awareness-raising campaigns to say that a person with disabilities is a full citizen," stated one group. "She is not only a wheelchair."

Moreover, researchers argue healthy habits and engaged citizenship in late life are not just individual responsibilities. Social structures are needed to foster participation and bolster personal agency.

The new research concluded that environmental barriers to participation must be eliminated on a societal level if older people with disabilities are to experience genuine citizenship and meaningful participation.