Where to live in future years is an issue never far from my mind especially living in Illinois that ranks close to the bottom for services for people with disabilities. Download Case-for-Inclusion-2016-FINAL-3. For families that do not have a loved one with a disability, it may be a matter of where we are raised or where our extended family remains. Others locate their homes based upon where the job is. Weather or access to seasonal outdoors recreation is paramount to others. But according to WalletHub, a personal finance social network, and as many of us know, families with members who have disabilities have a rather different set of criteria for determining where we want to live. WalletHub attempted to quantify which of the nation’s most populous 150 cities is the most “Disability-Friendly” by looking at three chief areas: economics, quality of life, and health care. From here, an additional 25 specific criteria were weighted and considered. And the winner is. . . . Overland Park, Kansas.
Realistically, none of us is packing up and moving to Overland Park this week as the result of this survey. But the survey does give each of us food for thought as we consider what is truly essential to us and our families. In doing their calculations, WalletHub ascribed different weights to each of their 25 criteria. Those criteria that were doubly weighted—employment rate for people with disabilities, percentage of persons with disabilities living below the poverty line, median earnings for people with disabilities, or cost of a doctor visit--are clearly important to all of us. Surprisingly, only two of the criteria related to education—number of special education teachers per 1,000 school-aged population with disabilities (ascribed full weight) or graduation rate for students with disabilities (ascribed only half rate, which I would personally rate much higher). Truthfully, each of us might measure the criteria differently based on our needs.
The meat of the survey comes not from the 25 different criteria, but the five indicators that each of a panel of experts identified as essential in determining how favorable a city is for persons with disabilities. Not surprising, many suggestions overlap with one another. Experts cite the need for:
- Medical care provided by professionals knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of the disabled
- High level of personal care providers
- Community integration
- Private agencies to provide expert supervision of housing and day programs
- Strong advocacy organizations
- Accessible and affordable housing
- Employment First state
- State expanded Medicaid accessibility under Affordable Health Care Act
- Direct support work force
- Accessibility, accessibility, and accessibility
- And my personal favorite--well supported state and local public schools
It’s fun to know that Pembroke Pines, FL has the lowest percentage of persons with disabilities living below the poverty level or that Boise, ID can boast (or not boast) of having the lowest employment rate for persons with disabilities. But moving forward, and for determining policy, WalletHub has assisted in identifying discrete policy areas that need improvement. So, I need not leave my home town of Chicago, which rated 78 of 150 cities, nor should residents of Providence, RI (148), Anchorage, AK (149), or Worcester, MA (150) start packing. We simply are now clearer as to where to begin our community advocacy. These are serious issues for many of us that are not easily resolved, and may involve significant relocation especially, as we face ultimate issues like parental mortality and what location will help insure high quality of life for our loved ones with a disability.