Just days before the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new statewide survey reveals that Georgians have little exposure to persons with disabilities and understanding of the daily challenges they face.
According to the survey commissioned by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), only one-third of Georgia's general public come across or interact with persons with developmental disabilities in their everyday life (33 percent), even if they or a family member has a disability (44 percent). Further, most (nearly 38 percent) said when they do encounter a person with a disability, they immediately feel sympathetic about the difficulties that person must experience on a daily basis. However, the survey also reveals that the general public isn't really aware of what those difficulties are. Respondents cited prejudice, discrimination, lack of acceptance, fear and stigma as the top issues persons with developmental disabilities face when trying to participate fully in community life. While participants representing the disabilities community agreed, they also ranked practical and survival issues such as accessibility, needed supports to live independently, job opportunities and finances as difficulties experienced in everyday living in landslide margins.
"This survey reveals that persons with developmental disabilities and their issues are still somewhat invisible to everyday society," said Eric Jacobson, executive director, GCDD. "Although, we have made progress as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still a lot of education to be done among the general public; and the best way for that to happen is to create a society that better integrates persons with disabilities in our schools, workforce and community. Understanding comes through exposure and awareness. The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is committed to achieving this goal through public policy, advocacy, programs and public information."
The research is the first statewide survey of its kind conducted by GCDD. The objective of the study was to explore the perceptions, attitudes and awareness of developmental disabilities issues among the general public and contrast it to the opinions of those living with and impacted by the challenges on a daily basis. The study identifies representatives of the disabilities community as individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, as well as members of grassroots advocacy organizations and providers of services.
Attitudes About Capabilities of Persons with Disabilities in Everyday Society
A majority of all survey respondents (55 percent of the general public and 78 percent of disabilities community participants) agreed that adults with disabilities should be able to live on their own with supports and services and not in institutions. However, the general public wasn't as confident in the ability of people with developmental disabilities to achieve career success or a child with disabilities' adjustment to learning in a traditional classroom.
- Only one-quarter of the general public and nearly 28 percent of participants from the disabilities community believed that it was very likely for persons with developmental disabilities to have careers with opportunities for advancement.
- More than half (52.8 percent) of the general public said that children with developmental disabilities would benefit most from being in separate classrooms or special schools versus learning in general classrooms with regular education students.
- While nearly 60 (58.4) percent of disabilities community participants believed that children with developmental disabilities would benefit most from general classrooms with regular education students.
"A stigma still exists among the general public and their views of the abilities, and perceived limitations, of persons with developmental disabilities. We have a firm belief and confidence that persons with disabilities can and should participate fully in real communities – enjoying real careers, living in real homes, learning in real environments, exerting real influence and receive real supports as needed. These are people that can contribute to society," Jacobson said.
What is a Developmental Disability?
The survey also revealed a lack of clear understanding of what conditions could be classified as a developmental disability. While developmental disabilities can be mental and/or physical, most did not associate the term with physical disabilities or impairments.
- A majority of respondents (84 percent of the disabilities community; 64 percent of the general public) were more likely to consider mental, cognitive or learning disabilities as developmental disabilities.
- Visual and hearing impairments were the least mentioned by the general public (4.5 and 4 percent, respectively).
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities defines a developmental disability as "a chronic mental and/or physical disability that occurs before age 22 and expected to last a lifetime. It may require supports in three or more of the following life activities: self-care, learning, mobility, self-direction, independent living and economic self-sufficiency."
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities