According to a University of New Hampshire analysis, 9% of America’s Latinos live with a disability ranging from physical and cognitive impairments to mental health disorders. And while that’s a lower rate than other racial and ethnic groups, Latinos are more likely to be unemployed or to drop out of school due to the disability. They’re also more likely to have worse health outcomes. And, with language and cultural barriers and concerns about documentation preventing many Latinos from seeking care, we may not have a full and accurate picture of how many Latinos are living with a disability.
Michelle Garcia, manager of organizing and community development for Access Living, said the range of disabilities people might be experiencing is broad and often not immediately evident to others.
“I have cerebral palsy which limits my ability to have my motor skills such as walking and also use of my right hand, for example,” Garcia said. “But there’s also some other disabilities like limitations on the ability to speak, or somebody who has limited vision or is blind. Some folks who have disabilities are also hard of hearing or deaf. And then there’s also people who have cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities, those are more invisible disabilities. There’s also folks who have mental health disabilities, so again, more invisible disabilities.”
Dr. Leonor Vanik, board president of the National Coalition of Latinxs with Disabilities, noted that intersecting disabilities and identities are common.
“For example, I can have a neurodivergence and be deaf,” Vanik said. “We know that many Latinos do not even know that they have a disability. I’ll give you an example, you ask people if they have diabetes and many people will say yes, they’ll raise their hand and if you ask them do they have a disability, they say no. They don’t understand that they’re protected under the ADA for work. So we’re trying to also educate nationally and locally on what a disability is because it does range.”
Vanik said that the support systems, legal protections, and opportunities for people with disabilities can vary from state to state, but she rates Illinois highly.