Disability is a minority group that anyone can enter at any point in their lives; indeed anyone who lives long enough is likely to acquire a disability with age. However, as Kahana and Kahana point out in Aging and Disability, acquiring a disability in old age does not necessarily lead to the formation of a disability identity or membership in the disability community. In this book, mother and son draw from their combined personal and professional experiences to explore what it means to acquire a disability late in life, and how those experiences converge with or diverge from the experiences of people who acquire disabilities either congenitally or in their youth or middle age.

The insight provided into aging by this book can help disability scholars and advocates in understanding the unique perspective of elderly people with disabilities. In chapter 2, the authors provide a Matrix of Disability in a Life Course Context. The matrix is a table that compares disability at childhood onset, young to middle age onset, and late life onset on such variables as identity, model (social or medical), and formal and informal support. This matrix is a useful tool for academics and advocates alike. For academics, it is a useful tool to makes comparisons between groups. Disability rights advocates can also use this matrix to understand the positions of their clients. An example of a situation where the matrix may be useful to advocates is a hypothetical example in the beginning of chapter 9. In this example a 65 year old man needs a knee replacement and his limited mobility is impacting him at his workplace. His health professionals typically explain these limitations as a result of old age. Therefore, although he could benefit from advocacy in the workplace for reasonable accommodations, he does not understand his impairment as a political or social issue and attempts to remedy the issue solely through individual efforts.

Similarly, in chapter 7, the authors discuss the impact of family involvement and advocacy in nursing homes, drawing upon their own personal experience when their mother/grandmother resided in a nursing home. This was an engaging and surprising chapter as the authors discuss the institutional policies and practices that have the effect of limiting family involvement. The insights gained from this chapter can apply to institutional settings for people with disabilities of all ages. The authors' explanation and application of Goffman's "total institution" reminded me of the time I spent as advocate working with institutionalized people with developmental disabilities, many of whom had been living there since the 1950s. As society moves toward community based settings for people with disabilities, this chapter offers useful insight into the institutional practices and policies that are complicating transition into community settings for this population. Chapters 3 and 5 also offer some autobiographical insight that gives the readers an opportunity to connect with the authors.

Throughout the book, disability studies scholars can learn about the various approaches that gerontologists have taken regarding disability. Gerontological research places greater emphasis on physical impairments than disability studies. The authors point out that gerontological approaches use more of an intertactionist than a constructionist framework compared with disability studies. At the same time, the social model of disability has been critiqued within disability studies for failing to address the issues related solely around impairment. Disability studies scholars who are trying to develop a theory of disability that addresses impairment may find inspiration in this book and the experience and identities of older disabled people.

Chapter 9 compares the politics and policies related to disability and aging. This chapter provides insight into the intersectional politics of disability and aging. Policies for disabled people and the elderly have historically been separate and are supported by different interests and values. Therefore, neither policy system is equipped for the unique needs of older people with disabilities.

The major theme of the book is that disability is more empowering for people who develop disabilities in youth or middle age than it is for people in old age. Disability studies is empowering for people with disabilities because it is a field that was created from the voices and the activism of people with disabilities themselves. The book ends by asking whether our greying society will be the impetus for greater cooperation between the disability and aging community. If so, the voices of elderly people with disabilities should be front and center.

Works Cited

  • Goffman, E., 1968. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. AldineTransaction.
Return to Top of Page