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Beyond 50.03: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability: Executive Summary

The 1,102 respondents were a heterogeneous population in the types of disabilities they have experienced, the age of onset of these disabilities, and their life experiences. For example, a sizable majority (68%) have a long-lasting condition that limits their physical mobility, while 21 percent have a vision or hearing impairment, and 19 percent have a cognitive or emotional condition. Nearly three-quarters of persons 50-64 (73%) report that their disability is "very/somewhat severe," compared with 45 percent of those 65 and older. For a majority of persons 50 and older, the onset of disability occurred between the ages of 40 and 64, a factor that was associated with greater severity of disability. On average, the income of persons 50 and older with disabilities was substantially lower than for persons 50 and older without disabilities, although their other demographic characteristics were similar, e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, and geographic region.

The quantitative findings from the survey are summarized below, along with other report findings. But the numbers do not fully convey the respondents' individuality and resiliency and the centrality of independence and dignity in their lives. When we asked open-ended questions about hopes and concerns, their number one fear was loss of independence. Control over decision making also emerged as a major theme.

Here is a sampling of verbatim responses by the 53 percent of respondents who answered yes to the question, "Have there been times in the past month when you could not do something you really needed or wanted to do because of your disability or health condition?"

"I would like to just go for a ride"
"Walk on the beach"
"Pay my bills, nothing else"
"Make a minor car repair, walk to the corner, get something off a high shelf, tie shoes"
"Just get out of bed"
"Just getting back and forth to the store. I have to wait for friends or family members"
"I can hardly go to visit relatives because of the stairs"
"Be able to afford food and getting here and there"
"I could not play my violin"
"Going fishing and being in the boat"
"Go to the park with my grandchildren"

These responses reflect the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities in doing simple things that people without disabilities take for granted.


Key Findings and Policy Implications

Summarized below are key findings from the entire report, including new analyses of the federally sponsored National Long-Term Care Surveys and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, and the new AARP survey conducted by Harris Interactive. We also draw out the implications of these findings for federal and state policy makers who wish to remove barriers to independence. (Note: Please see page 176 for a detailed list of findings that support these recommendations.)

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