Revista Horizontes: primavera/otoño 2011 | Año LIV Núms. 104-105

35 AGING WITH DISABILITIES IN PUERTO RICO Silviya Nikolova Bi-National Doctoral Program of Social Work and Comparative Social Welfare Policy University of Texas at Arlington and the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Mexico Alex Casiano Mercy LIFE (Living Independently For Elders) Philadelphia, PA Paul-Jesús Fericelli Department of Social Work Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico Abstract This article examines the theoretical and socio- political understanding of a growing popular concern in Puerto Rico – the present and future of aging people with long-term impairments and functional disabilities. The objectives of this work were to discuss the need for a new comprehensive way of policymaking for the group of older adults, considering the importance of the aging process and consequences of decreasing abilities and social participation of the aging Puerto Ricans. Based on the experience and practice of the PROSPERA program, an innovative, enhancement of services framework is being described taking into account cultural, socio-economical, political, and educational characteristics of the older adults. It is concluded that Puerto Rican social policy planning and design addresses a shared responsibility between the state and society when working for the well being of older adults in terms of healthier communities and greater social participation. Keywords: Aging, Disability, Puerto Rico, Hispanic, Policy, Services Aging with disabilities is often thought-of as a negative experience. Older adults with some kind of disability double their chances of being discriminated and stigmatized due not only because of their age but also because of their impairment. A study of Kite and Johnson (1988) suggests that more barriers and negative attitudes are common for specific categories of people labeled as marginalized, including older adults, ethnic groups, disabled, etc. Therefore, older adults with disabilities experience less social privilege in their everyday lives (Choi, 1996; Rhee, 1996), which makes them one of the current beneficiary groups for social policy protection (Morales & Sheafor, 2002). Despite the importance of understanding older adults’ needs and reducing the negative experiences they face, the research on aging and disability has been limited to a sufficient degree of interdisciplinary approaches of analysis. Gerontologist have shown that aging differ as a social process in different societies depending on cultural values and understandings (Burden, 1997; Scott, Lee, Lee, & Kim, 2006). Researchers in disability have shown that there are differences in analysis of needs, treatment and attention to people with disabilities regarding their ages (Finnish Centre for Interdisciplinary Gerontology, 2004; Müller & Ahearn, 2005). Policy researchers have demonstrated the strong implications for better and wider assessments of needs of vulnerable people regarding different aspects of human rights: health and social accessibility, mobility, work, and education (Wehman, 1993; Switzer, 2003). Considering the strong implications of aging and disability topic in different fields of social interest, regarding different problematic areas, we attempt to merge the gap of assessing them in combination through a common discussion, critical appraisal and practical demonstration of the working social policy in Puerto Rico. Aging with Disabilities: An Overview Understanding the state of older adults with disabilities in Puerto Rico is vital for predicting the future needs of this entire region and population. It has important implications for the design and the construction of the social policy agenda, the safety nets and the associated economic costs related to governmental interventions when meeting the real needs of older adults with disabilities (Ortiz & Cole, 2004; Monteverde, Noronha & Palloni, 2009). The aging with disabilities framework involves two major components in its theoretical discussion: the process of disability and the process of aging (Sheets, 2005; Smith, 2008). There is a natural juxtaposition between them because of the similar decreasing effect on abilities and capacities on people living under such life conditions (Chappel & Cooke, 2011). Additionally, older adults with disabilities encounter issues related to personal and social well-being, dependence and independence in everyday life, cognitive and physical functioning, engagement with life, opportunities for health, social participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life (Lennartsson & Silverstein, 2001; O´Donnel, 2009; World Health Organization, 2002). An enhanced quality of life guarantees successfulness of the aging process and determines it as an active process with optimized involvement of the elderly in the social mainstream of life (WHO, 2002). According to the World Health Organization (2003), the process of disability for older adults is generally centered in terms of restrictions in the ability to perform daily living or the inability to perform independent living. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health determines