The New Year brings with it reflections on the past year, hopes for the year to come, resolutions to do better at something or perhaps a resolution to stop making empty promises to oneself. Why do we celebrate the New Year? Have we not had enough time off from work, enough to eat and drink, and enough time with family by now? The reason we celebrate is the passage of time is something to celebrate –as a culture that is a blend of many different cultures, we celebrate survival.
Why then, when we celebrate the passage of time, and survival do we not celebrate aging as a society? Celebrating aging would mean that we do not see being older as somehow being inferior. Celebrating aging would mean that we stop saying we are embarrassed to say how old we are after a certain age. It would certainly mean we treat people who are older much better than we do now. Over time the concept of what is old has changed. In Social Security regulations, which literally take an act of congress to change, they talk about age 55 as “rapidly approaching advanced age”. Retirement used to be age 65 at the latest, now it is 70, and most people work beyond that age. While the Greatest Generation suffered in silence, the Baby Boomers (I am one) are much more entitled and are not putting up with ageist, regressive social policies. We are not going to sit quietly on the sidelines. Because more of us who are older are still in the workforce, we are able to push policy changes, including reframing of aging. Many great people are contributing to this including some of our foundation partners. CCDC recently got a great document with a grant agreement from Next50 Initiative that talked about language to use and not to use. These guidance documents are familiar to us…we have been using them in the disability community for decades.
For as long as I can remember systems (governments, policymakers, service providers, etc.) have tried to lump people with disabilities and people who are aging together as if our needs were the same. We always protested this, perhaps some of our protests were based on our ageism, but some were based on the reality that we are indeed different groups. Even assuming that either all disabled people or all people over a certain age are homogenous is ridiculous.
While we surely have ageism in the disability community as we are part of the overall ageist culture, we do have a different perspective on the passage of time, on the concept of getting older. Most of us proudly announce our age as we get older. We see living on as a celebration, as evidence that we have again beaten the odds. Too many in our community still never get to enjoy being older, certainly have never had luxuries like retirement (that is a whole different blog). The rest of society could benefit by adopting our cultural view of getting older, our pride in survival. Our community has a lot to offer to society regarding how to continue to be a vital part of one’s community despite (or maybe because of) varying abilities. After normal adjustments, we do not see having less or even no sight, the inability to walk, or the need for help with activities of daily living, as a tragedy. We do not see intelligence or stamina as defining who we are as people. We have a healthy relationship with adaptive equipment—we do not see a wheelchair as confining, but liberating. We do not see driving a car as the only way to get around town.
We are excited to be embarking on a new project with the support of Next50 Initiative. We will be offering a pilot online education program to doctors and other medical professionals who treat people age 50 and over. The offering will focus on disability cultural competency issues –both philosophical and practical. We hope this will help them use what we have learned to help their patients. Something as simple as using mobility aids like power wheelchairs and public transportation can be the difference between isolation and a vibrant active life for someone with limited mobility. We are modeling our training on successful disability cultural competence trainings we designed and provided for Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
We have other work to do, such as eliminating ageist policies such as not allowing people to use work incentive programs after age 65 and we will be running a bill in 2020 to allow people to stay in the Medicaid Buy-In for Working Adults with Disabilities after age 65. Our fantastic sponsors are Senator Tate and Representative Lontine.
We are also learning. For the first time, people with long-term and even lifetime disabilities are aging. This has never happened before, at least not in large numbers. This is fantastic news for our community. We have to figure out this new reality—aging looks different for people who have other disabilities. But it is certainly better than the alternative. After years of insisting that the two communities—those with disabilities and those over 65 have nothing in common, we finally have a small cohort of people who are one and the same. That is indeed something to celebrate.