Supporting children and adults with disabilities requires the combined talents of professionals representing several disciplines. Teachers, nurses, therapists, social workers, and doctors might all be involved in planning and caring for those with special needs. The severity of an individual’s disability largely determines the services needed. Though some individuals with disabilities may elect to forgo available support, some can’t deny help as a matter of their survival.
Individuals with disabilities, in particular children and their parents, have relationships with those who support them. The children and parents enter these relationships by circumstance. All others involved choose their specialized roles. Importantly, most of those offering support receive compensation for their efforts. These people who provide education or advocacy or medical care make up a field that could be called the helping industry.
Throughout history, various civilizations and societies have had means of providing (or not providing) for people with special needs. In our society, this has grown into a massive and lucrative business. Entire professions have developed around the need to support individuals with disabilities. Publicly traded companies thrive on the need for specialized equipment and services. Supporting individuals with disabilities is more than a hallmark of an inclusive society. It is a way for that society to generate revenue.
Some conservative critics might suggest that too much of the public’s money is spent on the needs of individuals with disabilities. Such criticism has merit. Costly infrastructure renovations can seem questionably worthwhile per the number of people benefitting from them. Certainly, special education spending in public schools is more than a little warped. The most callous arguments against such spending suggest the public expenditures are too far out of balance with what society gains from them. One counter argument could be the inherent importance of all members of a society and the responsibility of that society to care for its own. The argument these critics are more likely to hear is that despite the significant public outlays for individuals with disabilities, providing for them helps the economy.
All the distinct disciplines involved in the helping industry share an important role. Most of the individuals working to provide support earn a professional salary. They use these professional salaries to purchase homes and cars. They plan families around having solid incomes. Families spend more than single people do. Some will invest a portion of they what earn, distributing the benefit of their earnings. As part of the helping industry, many of these individuals are paid via taxpayer money, but they channel this money back into their local economies and the economy at large.
The most disabled individuals who rely on helping industry workers might never be able to contribute directly to society. Their disabilities could be of such severity that they will never work or have any degree of independence. While the existence of those with such needs could be viewed as a monetary drain, it isn’t. Those with pervasive, lifelong care needs require the creation and continuation of helping industry jobs. Some severely disabled individuals might require full-time nursing care, which might provide three of four full-time skilled nursing jobs. These individuals might need to live in group homes. The resident assistants who will support them are all helping industry beneficiaries.
In schools, the helping industry has its deepest reach. Some of the most disabled students require such highly specialized transportation that a district might employ one bus driver for one student. Students with behavioral needs often are seen as sources of disruption in schools, but many require therapeutic support staff or other behavioral specialists. These are additional skilled professional positions. Districts have to employ school psychologists to identify students with special needs. Absurd as this may seem, most districts need certified professionals to oversee and help process mandated special education paperwork. Schools abound with helping industry jobs.
Others on the periphery of the helping industry still reap benefits. Attorneys do well for themselves, whether they’re suing or defending school districts, or representing adult clients seeking assorted damages. Universities pay professors to train future members of the helping industry. Don’t forget: these future members are paying tuition just to be part of the exchange. Educational publishers and special products manufacturers can charge what they wish because school districts and other organizations have to buy their products, sometimes by court order. Even those infrastructure projects are part of the revenue stream, because someone is getting paid to lay the concrete. Taking time to think about the layers of support quickly reveals a multitude of professions and trades taking part in the helping industry.
Some questions linger regarding whom the helping industry benefits most. Of course, those receiving services benefit. Without services, some disabled individuals would die, so benefit is quite clear. The role of the helping industry is curious, as it exists because of those who aren’t able to adequately participate in our society without assistance. It will exist as long as there are people with great need. Helping industry workers tend to have intentions other than profit. They aren’t merely exploiting individuals with disabilities, but most wouldn’t do what they do for much less than they make. Supporting others is their livelihood. They might act out of a sense of compassion or obligation, but the existence of disabled people pays for their furniture, vacations, and health insurance. The ultimate beneficiary might not be any group of people, though. It might be the local and even national economy.
The helping industry is gigantic. It owes its expansive growth to the civil rights petitioning of the mid-to-late Twentieth Century. Much of what happens in the helping industry happens in the name of protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. This is true in schools, especially regarding students who may be so disabled that educational benefit is highly questionable. The law still requires schools to provide an education. Protecting rights is important, but helping industry workers come to their professions with some desire to improve the immediate lives of those who will be in their care. True as this many be, they also join their fields because they will get paid.
Critics too often miss this aspect of providing for society’s most needy people. The helping industry could be seen as a form of vicarious public assistance. Any such entitlement exists so people without means can continue to take part in the marketplace. No, the helping industry doesn’t necessarily allow disabled children or adults to participate directly. It may help some reach this level of independence, but most often it won’t. It does ensure the existence of individuals with disabilities, especially severe disabilities, isn’t merely something for taxpayers to begrudgingly shoulder. The costly enterprise of providing support is really an economic stimulus. One would be repulsively insensitive to reduce the importance of disabled individuals to that of economy boosters, or to view their struggles as fiscal assets. Beyond such reasoning, one would be naïve not to recognize the helping industry as being helpful to more than just those receiving support.