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Disability status is as much a legal identifier as it is a psychosocial one. People with disabilities are a minority population that experiences stigmatization and, in many cases, a shared culture. A recent study sought to understand the relationship between disability identity for adults with visual impairment (such as from age-related macular degeneration or another cause) and employment rates, predicting that psychosocial factors may have a large and underappreciated impact.

Only 44% of Americans of working age with visual impairment were employed in 2016, compared to 77% of the general population. Given that employment is often indicative of socioeconomic status, this gap implies a deep disparity in quality of life. While this disparity has primarily been explained through a lens of environmental and impairment factors, it has not been examined psychosocially.

Positive disability identity is one that takes pride in oneself and being a part of a community of people with disabilities, as opposed to feeling isolated or ashamed by one’s disability.

By comparing individuals with a positive disability identity to those with a more negative self-perception, it was found that individuals with higher disability affirmation were more likely to be employed, regardless of other factors including age, education, mobility tool use, and severity of vision loss. Quantifiably, for every one-unit increase in disability affirmation, there was a 121% higher chance of employment.

This finding has valuable implications. First, it opens the door to a new approach to increasing accessibility. In addition to changing infrastructure, it is equally important to promote disability advocacy. Second, it creates a new corner in disability research that can be evaluated from a number of angles.

Outside of employment status, increasing disability affirmation can improve the quality of life of people with visual impairment and other disabilities. As we work to improve accessibility, disability identity must be taken into account [1].

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[1] Zapata, M. A. (2020). Disability Affirmation Predicts Employment Among Adults With Visual Impairment and Blindness. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 003435522095710. https://doi.org/10.1177/0034355220957107

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