Out of the Nest: What Do We Owe Adults with Disabilities?

Hello readers,

I recently asked myself this question as the news and life’s events came together in my brain again. My little brother will “leave the family nest” in less than a month to marry my future sister-in-law and move a short distance away. Is he prepared to leave in terms of life skills? Well, he can cook a little bit–as in, mac and cheese, tacos, that sort of thing. He can do laundry to a point. He knows the value of a shower and brushing his teeth. So yeah, he’s ready. Wouldn’t be considered ready if he had a disability of any kind, but we’ve covered that a lot.

At the same time, I ran across some disturbing news from Disability Scoop and other disability news outlets that I frequent. In a nutshell, the news is that even though services for children and teens with disabilities abound, those services become minimal or perhaps even nonexistent once those children and teens become adults. In fact, Sean Heasley of Disability Scoop points out that where an adult with a disability lives is often the determining factor in what services are available, as well as how inclusive they are. In other words, if you live in the wrong state, you’re just plain out of luck. Available “services” generally mean more segregation, more “special” activities, more people controlling your life. A transition–but not a transition at all because nothing has changed. You’re just older.

Been there, readers. Been there, done that, explained my goals ad nauseam, listened to myself and my family members argue with service providers who “just didn’t know how to” help a high-functioning adult. And yet, I consider myself lucky because what happens to adults who aren’t as high-functioning? They may get more “services,” but they often end up far more segregated, struggling with the same emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical issues they have since childhood because no one sees them as whole people.

So the question is, do we just shove those adults out of the nests the way birds do to babies and say, “Good luck?” No. We can make services truly serve–by focusing on the whole person, not the disability diagnosis. But we do owe these adults more than we’re giving them.

Kathie Snow wrote a piece on her website entitled, “What We Owe Children.” I’m going to take her concept and tell you what I think we owe adults–all adults, even and especially those with disabilities.

We owe adults acknowledgment of the fact that they are grown-ups.

We owe adults the services they need and request, not the ones we pin on them or say they have to take because that’s “all we have.”

We owe adults the time and effort it takes to think outside the box.

We owe adults–yes, even those with severe disabilities–a living wage and the satisfaction of earning real money that they can use however they want.

We owe adults choices in where they will live and work, and where and with whom they will socialize. We owe adults the trust to make good decisions about these things, with our help, but not our intrusion.

We owe adults relevant, meaningful goals, if indeed goals must be set.

We owe adults basic human dignities. Everyone has a basic human right to be fed, to be clothed, to be comfortable in the temperature relevant to the moment, to be clean, to get enough sleep, and to pursue leisure activities of their choice.

We owe adults the chance to love and be loved.

We owe adults respect.

You may have noticed that these things aren’t so different from what we owe children. That’s because children grow into adults, and adults are former children. The point is that they remain human beings the whole time–and these are what we owe humans, disability or not. We talk about human rights–so let’s stop pretending that, once you get to a certain age, those rights go out the window because you have a disability. I mean, just because you’re not a cute little kid anymore, just because you never “succeeded” at some therapy goal when you were five–it doesn’t mean the world should give up on you. Because really, readers, how would you feel if the world gave up on you because you, say, never quite mastered your times tables?

Right. So let’s approach each nest with caution, open our hands, and say, “Let’s help you fly!”



  1. benraine · October 21, 2014

    I love your blog and how you intertwine advocacy for those who have different abilities into your writings. if you ever have time I have a ton of questions and would love to glean from those who are self-advocates. Blessings from the Great White North!

    • independencechick · October 22, 2014

      I always have time for questions. This week is a bit crazy since I’m preparing for my brother’s wedding, but fire away.

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