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Disability and Happiness: The Disability Paradox

How often have you thought to yourself, “I would never be able to live with a disability?” Unfortunately, many individuals associate disability with dependency and with difficulty in being able to do things. At times we even feel sorry for individuals who have a disability because we assume that the person must be unhappy or depressed because of their limitations. We have got this all wrong. The “disability paradox” suggests that many individuals with disabilities report that they experience an excellent quality of life when, to most people, they seem to live an undesirable daily existence (Albrecht & Devilieger, 1999). Studies report that individuals with disabilities do, at times, report lower quality of life as compared their peers though the degree of impairment does not seem to be associated with quality of life. For example, in a recent study we published with in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, exploring factors that influence quality of life and depression in individuals with spinal cord injury, we saw that quality of life was not affected by the degree of functional impairment (Hartoonian et al. 2014). In other words, satisfaction with life is possible even when the person is completely physically dependent on others.


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