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Livable Communities for Adults with Disabilities

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Livable Communities for Adults with Disabilities (PDF, 3278K)

Publication date: December 2, 2004 

Communities in the United States are faced with increasingly difficult decisions about how to plan for change, and increase and improve the quality of life for adults with disabilities as well as elders who may develop disabilities as they grow older. People are living longer lives today than ever before and the population of people aged 65 and older is growing rapidly. By 2030, one in five people in the United States will be over the age of 65. Currently, more than 4.7 million Americans aged 65 years or older have a sensory disability involving sight or hearing, and more than 6.7 million have difficulty going outside the home. As the population of elders grows, it is likely that the number of people aged 65 and older with disabilities also will grow, particularly among those 75 years of age and older.

Adults with disabilities and elders want to live in their own homes as independently as possible for as long as possible. People want to live in supportive communities that encourage independence and a high quality of life. To facilitate independence, people often need the same kinds of services. In addition, people want to remain contributing members of the community. It makes sense, therefore, for the disability community and aging network--groups that traditionally work separately--to collaborate, align goals, and share resources to address the challenges and opportunities ahead.

As the demographic profile of the United States changes, there will be an increased need for livable communities that support the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities and older adults. To meet this demand, three factors must be considered: (1) the elements of a livable community; (2) existing examples of livable communities in the United States today that can serve as models for others; and (3) how these communities develop and sustain livability features.

Framework of a Livable Community for Adults with Disabilities

"Livable community" is a fluid term whose definition may change depending on the context and such considerations as community capacity, organizational goals, and the needs and desires of particular groups of citizens. For the purposes of this report, a Framework of a Livable Community for Adults with Disabilities was constructed to define the elements that need to be in place for a community to be considered livable for people with disabilities. It is clear, however, that the elements that make a community livable for people with disabilities make it a livable place for all members of the community. Thus, in improving its livability for one particular group of constituents, the community actually accomplishes considerably more.

The Framework of a Livable Community for Adults with Disabilities is inspired, in part, by a similar framework developed for the AdvantAge Initiative, a project that helps communities measure and improve their "elder-friendliness."2 It was informed further by research on the concept of livability, results of recent surveys of people with disabilities, countless interviews with key informants and people with disabilities, and a focus group session involving people with disabilities aged 30 and older in Washington, D.C. Similar themes emerged from each of these activities and were synthesized into the framework. Thus, a Livable Community for Adults with Disabilities is defined as one that achieves the following:

  • Provides affordable, appropriate, accessible housing
  • Ensures accessible, affordable, reliable, safe transportation
  • Adjusts the physical environment for inclusiveness and accessibility
  • Provides work, volunteer, and education opportunities
  • Ensures access to key health and support services
  • Encourages participation in civic, cultural, social, and recreational activities

Within each of these six areas, a livable community strives to maximize people's independence, assure safety and security, promote inclusiveness, and provide choice.

While no one community in the United States has addressed all six of these livability goals to equal degrees, many states, counties, and local communities have made extraordinary improvements in their livability for people with disabilities in one or even several of these areas. Their experiences and achievements can serve as inspiration and provide replicable "best practices," which other communities can emulate as they strive to become more livable.