Losses? Where do we begin? A higher percentage of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic due to preexisting conditions, unsafe living life spaces, and lack of awareness for how to avoid catching the virus. Experts estimate that people with intellectual disabilities have as much as ten times the risk of a COVID-19 death. In fact, it was the leading cause of death for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 2020.
A Pandemic and a War
What is more, COVID-19 dismantled disability service systems worldwide. Due to a complex set of factors, many disability service professionals left the field. Yes, many of these heroes who had cared for people with disabilities stepped back. Others of them gave their lives by staying on duty and catching the virus.
Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Out of the 2.7 million Ukrainians with disabling conditions, hundreds of thousands are children and half of these were living in orphanages. Many of these have been displaced and are now living in refugee communities, some children wandering about with no one to protect them. It’s worse than a nightmare. But just when it seemed that people with disabilities were losing ground on all fronts, God did something amazing.
God Parted the Waters with Jobs
One example is New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the Commissioner for the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, Kerri Neifeld, stepped up. And they delivered. Among the budgeted items were pay increases for those heroic disability service providers. In fact, New York State committed not only to repairing the damage COVID-19 brought, but also to bring back funding for disability services above and beyond pre-pandemic levels. But then came a completely unexpected blessing in the lives of many people with disability and their work.
The weekly national jobs report revealed a shocking new pattern. For the first time, people with disabilities closed the gap on job growth then outpaced the national job report throughout COVID-19. And although discrimination in the workplace continues, people with disabilities surpassed the national average during a pandemic and continue to beat it.
Why? Many people with intellectual disabilities are delivering in their work performance. They are on time, do conscientious work, and have better attitudes than many of their non-disabled counterparts. Employers who stepped forward and gave these good citizens an opportunity to work are thrilled with their performance. We owe a debt of gratitude to them and especially to our excellent disability service organizations that provide employment support.
Life, Happiness, and Gratitude
What difference does a job make? Jobs offer the security and predictability of a regular schedule as well as the satisfaction of productivity and purpose that we all need. Also, jobs make it possible to get quality healthcare, particularly in meeting disability needs. But the biggest winner is that jobs offer people with disabilities a place in the community. What is more, they can enjoy freedom to be to be independent and find housing that fulfills their desires for a good life. Jobs may or may not cover all living expenses. But jobs make it possible to live dreams like putting a portion of their hard-earned money in the church offering or getting biblical training so that they too can serve in local church ministry and missions.
A Time to Celebrate
October is Disability Employment Month. As a prelude, September marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which has increased awareness and developed employment opportunities for people with disabilities through policymaking. In so doing, the United States updated the landmark act by adding more protections and provisions for people with disabilities particularly in disability employment and in health care response.
True, this and other tremendous victories come at a time of loss in our world. But let’s take time to look at the glass half full. Disability employment is improving and people with disabilities are leading better lives. We have a long way to go. But it helps to remind ourselves how far we have come, even in tragic circumstances.
This simple disability employment picture demonstrates why there are reasons to be grateful to God for improving circumstances for people with disabilities. We’ve been through a lot with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It’s not over yet. But already people with disabilities have shown us, not only that it is easy to underestimate them, but also that, given the opportunity, they can and will deliver. It is the grace of God working through their lives as it does the rest of us who are not yet disabled.
Written By—Dave Deuel, PhD
Dave Deuel is married with four adult children, one daughter has Down syndrome. He also has a sister-in-law who has an intellectual disability. He is Academic Dean Emeritus for the Master’s Academy International, Senior Research Fellow Emeritus and Strategic Alliance SME for the Joni Eareckson Tada Disability Research Center, and Catalyst for the Disability Concerns Issue Network, the Lausanne Movement.
He served as Old Testament professor and department chairman at the Master’s Seminary for 10 years and in pastoral roles of local churches, five of which were church plants. He is currently elder for pulpit and interim pastor for area local churches in upstate New York.