How Demographic Change Influences the Lives of Disabled People
Life expectancy in Germany is rising and the population is getting older. More and more people are afflicted by age-related illnesses. Moreover, in compliance with this trend, the number of seniors who have already been dependent on care and assistance for their whole lives is also growing.
Until now, few of these people had any prospect of a long life in Germany. Due to the National Socialists’ extermination policies, people with congenital disabilities are almost entirely absent from the age groups of 60 years and older. In addition, many forms of disability were previously associated with high mortality rates. During recent decades, thanks to better living conditions, life expectancy for individuals with mental or multiple disabilities has improved dramatically.
This development has a number of consequences for the institutions serving the disabled. Above all, they need to be more closely aligned to the needs of the elderly. Firstly, because their client base is growing older and, secondly, because today’s disabled adults who are still living with their parents will become dependent on professional support when their parents can no longer care for them. An older clientele translates into new demands for professionals at institutions for the disabled. The elderly clients no longer participate in workshops for the handicapped, preferring – instead – to enjoy their free time. Additionally, the institutions need to prepare for their clients’ expanding care requirements. And with the number of people suffering from mental illnesses or learning disabilities on the rise, the institutions in question will inevitably face additional challenges.
The exact number of Germans requiring care due to disabilities is not available in any official statistics - neither has the utilisation of care services been analysed in detail. For this reason, future care requirements can only be estimated roughly. In this study, the Berlin Institute uses different scenarios to project the varying numbers of people who will be recognised as being "severely handicapped" or are entitled to care in dedicated homes.
The above-mentioned trend puts further pressure on the already strained budgets in the social sector. A paradigm shift, from care to participation, has yet to be realised in the everyday lives of the disabled – despite being advanced by professionals and initiated in legislation. Many of the disabled have no choice but to spend their entire lives in special institutions or homes.
To enable people with disabilities to live independent lives, the parties concerned need to resolutely pursue the participatory goals set by social policy and to eliminate the remaining obstacles to progress. This means investing in general education for children with and without disabilities, in providing housing and care for out-patients, and in individualising the care offered - e.g. the so-called "personal budget". It is not enough to push for the closure of special institutions and homes – society needs to open up to participation by the disabled and eliminate the spatial and communicative barriers that are obstructing achievement of these goals. Some civil society initiatives – such as "Mehrgenerationenhäuser" (houses shared by multiple generations) and quarter management projects – are already illustrating the possibility of successful inclusion.
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