The "return on investment" philosophy is a recurrent theme in the history of disabilities. Today there is much controversy about the amount of money spent on programs for people with disabilities. Governor Lamb of Colorado is a devotee of this philosophy. His oft-quoted insensitive remark about the amount of tax money spent to teach a child with severe disabilities to roll over is indicative of the attitude that many people in our society have toward funding services for people with disabilities.
Rather than dwelling on monetary return, perhaps we should focus instead on the contributions people with disabilities make to our society. The scientific discoveries of Stephen Hawking, universally acknowledged as one of the most brilliant scientific minds of our time; or the inspiration generated by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a journalist and former editor of Elle magazine, are examples. After Bauby became disabled in 1995, he was unable to breathe on his own and could only move his left eyelid. However, he dictated the 130-page "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by blinking his left eyelid in code more than 200,000 times. According to his doctor, Christian de Maricourt, "The impression he made was one of pure spirit. He put his body aside. With his eye, he seduced us all." (from the Washington Post with contributions from The Associated Press).
Most of us will become less productive or even unproductive before we die. Our sight, hearing, and ability to perform activities of daily living will be impaired. Should we then be denied the services and support we will need?
According to the census report Americans with Disabilities: 1991/1992 (published January 1994), 48.9 million Americans, or 19.4 percent of the total population of 251.8 million, reported that they had a disability; 24.1 million of these persons reported a severe disability. (A disability was defined as "having difficulty in performing one or more daily living activities, or one or more socially defined roles or tasks." Persons who are completely unable to perform an activity or task, or who must have personal assistance, were considered to have a severe disability.) Thirty-four percent of Americans with disabilities were over the age of 65.