Cover of Impact, 34(3), showing two older women with disabilities sitting in a coffee shop booth. They are talking and smiling.

Increases in longevity and in employment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities raise important questions about what retirement and healthy aging look like for people with IDD today. 

Working with authors from the disability and aging fields, including older workers with IDD, the Institute on Community Integration’s new issue of Impact explores this life stage and urges policymakers, researchers, and others to create better opportunities for retirement years that are healthy and integrated in the community. 

Minnesota Public Radio senior economics contributor Chris Farrell served as one of four issue editors for the publication, along with Lieke van Heumen and Tamar Heller of University of Illinois Chicago, and Roger Stancliffe, senior research associate at ICI and professor emeritus at University of Sydney, Australia. 

Stancliffe also contributed two articles for the issue that discuss the critical need to better understand retirement for people with IDD and report on his work in Australia to introduce choice and control over retirement decisions for people with IDD after they retire from paid work in the community. 

“Socially inclusive activities are feasible in older age and retirement, but the most common activity for people with IDD remains disability-specific day programs,” Stancliffe said. “We need to question this mindset and look at what is happening for people in similar circumstances in the general community and try to tap into that.” 

Conversely, Farrell, also an author of books about retirement and a contributor at Next Avenue, said advising the Impact issue broadened his understanding of people with IDD. 

“Reading through the articles, it’s painfully clear that as a society and as an economy we have let down so many people with disabilities who want to work for the same reason everyone else wants a job—for purpose, for connections, and for an income,” he said. “I was also struck by how similar (and familiar) many of the aging and retirement issues of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are to the concerns of the rest of the aging population. It has become increasingly obvious that bringing the generations and people from all walks of life together is much healthier for everyone. The knowledge is there. The research supports the insight. But institutions change slowly—too slowly.”  

Van Heumen and Heller contributed an article assessing the state of such inclusion and efforts to foster healthy aging in people with IDD. 

“The issue as a whole demonstrates the richness of the aging and disability experience,” van Heumen said. “The articles show the growing networks of scholars, advocates and other leaders who are engaging with this experience and who are reimagining services, supports, programs, and policies to better serve those living and aging with disability and the people who care for them.” 

The issue includes profiles of successful aging programs, and several personal stories by people with disabilities themselves or their family members.  

“These stories highlight the rewards of living life on your own terms, as well as the challenges in doing so,” van Heumen said.