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Special Needs, Opportunities, and the Cost of Living: Extra Challenges for Low-Income Families

It’s hard enough raising a child with special needs. It’s hard enough feeding a family on under $25,000 a year (a typical income for full-time restaurant employees in the United States). But for the parent coping with a child’s special needs and a low-income, low-benefits job, the burden is exponentially multiplied. And it’s not that rare a situation: the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2019 that more than 1 in 25 children had “a disability,” and that the rate was higher among families on poverty-level incomes.

High-Risk Demographic

Throughout history, low-income families have lived at higher risk of disabilities and other health problems. The reasons are many:

  • Less access to dependable medical care
  • Less healthy (or just less) affordable food
  • Ongoing exposure to toxins in food, water, or air (most common in low-income housing locations)
  • More stress and fewer self-care options
  • Limited educational opportunities

Most recently, the COVID shutdowns of 2020, with their accompanying period of all-virtual education, drew public attention to the millions of American households that are unable to take full advantage of the internet because they lack high-speed-broadband access or basic digital skills. And even technically accessible websites can be unusable for someone with a hearing, vision, or autism disorder. (There are official Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to reduce this problem, but much remains to be done toward universal compliance.)

What Can Be Done?

For low-income households where special needs and online access are a problem, smartphone apps and internet-focused financial assistance can help. (Check the BridgingApps database for dozens of educational-app recommendations, also our article on Comcast Internet Essentials and other low-cost internet options.) If you want to do more—whether you’re struggling with low income and/or special needs yourself, or want to help others who are—remember that little actions are first steps toward big changes.

  • Use the influence you have: cast a vote, sign a petition, write a letter, join a support group, patronize accessible businesses even if you have no special needs of your own.
  • Volunteer with organizations that serve low-income families. You may think you don’t have time, but even one Saturday a month or an hour a week—considerably less time than most people spend on social media and television—can make a difference in someone’s life.
  • If you’re blessed to be numbered in the higher-income demographic, get personally acquainted with someone from a low-income family—in most cases, that’s as simple as chatting with the custodian at your office or the clerk at your favorite fast-food restaurant. Knowing someone as an individual will provide new insights into how you can best help.

Finally: real change happens through long-term, diligent work toward win-win solutions. Whatever your income bracket or family situation, stay focused on being a positive force for change. And always remember to respect everyone—not only those who already agree with you—as a human being with legitimate concerns.

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