Ultimate Guide to Living With a Disability After High School

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Independent living skills are great for people with any disability to lead fulfilling and self-sufficient lives. These skills can empower you to overcome challenges and participate actively in their communities.

In this guide, we will go through each skill category and provide a few ideas and strategies on how you can make steps to being more confident on doing these things on your own.  That said, the biggest factor that will help you pursue the life you love is self-advocacy and recognizing the skills or tasks that you may need additional assistance in. 

In the realm of occupational therapy, if you are able to self-advocate and attain the assistance you need (for example, assistance in cooking/meal prepping or have a personal care attendant), that in itself is independence. Because you are independently attaining the things you need to live your life.

Note: The strategies and ideas offered in this guide do not replace the professional advice and guidance from your specific healthcare professionals. This guide is meant to be informative and act as a conversation starter when brainstorming ways to assist you in your life.

Categories defined in this guide are based on the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework 4th Edition (OTPF-4). While we try to touch on a bit of everything from the OTPF-4 it is by no means comprehensive nor exhaustive. If we did, this guide would be much longer than it already is!

2nd Note: Some of the links provided here are Amazon affiliate links. This means that we get commissions on any purchases made through links in this post. We encourage you to do any additional research as you need prior to making a purchase decision.

With all that out of the way, let’s get started!

1. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Official definition: Activities oriented toward taking care of one’s own body and completed on a routine basis.
More specifically, these activities include things such as bathing, using the bathroom, getting dressed, eating/feeding, functional mobility, additional personal hygiene, and sexual activity.

In other words: As a young adult, these may be things you have been doing for pretty much your whole life. Now that you are out of high school, however, you may find that some of these activities are harder to keep track of or do yourself. Here are some ideas you can use to help keep things on track: 

  1. Non-slip bathmats/shower benches – Falling in the shower can be really scary and very painful. Having something that either provides extra grip for your feet or something to sit down on can reduce these odds, especially if you are a wheelchair user or have a condition that leads you to fatiguing quickly.
  2. Reachers/Sock Aides – We used and taught patients these all the time during my clinical rotations in the hospital. Reachers are great to use when it comes to grabbing things just out of reach (they also make great back scratchers). Check out this video from EquipMeOT that goes over the different types of reachers.

    Sock aides, while a bit weird to learn at first, are also very helpful to help you put on socks during days you may feel very tight or fatigued. Here are a couple examples of sock aides.

    Standard sock aide:

    For those with larger or wider feet:

  3. Built-up utensils and/or weighted utensils – This tip is helpful if you are having difficulty holding onto forks, spoons, knives, etc. These are helpful as the bigger grip makes it easier to grasp.
    For those with tremors, weighted utensils facilitate more forearm muscles use which helps to steady your hand when bringing food food to and from your mouth. For those concerned with aesthetics, there are plenty of options on Amazon to suit your aesthetic needs.

    Weighted Utensils:
  4. Multiple chair rest points This is helpful for those who may fatigue quickly. For those who may fatigue quickly and become unsteady on your feet, it can be frustrating to feel like you need to use a walker or rollator.

    If that is the case and walkers or rollators are not what you want, one way to reduce the likelihood of falls is to have chairs strategically placed around your home that you can easily get to when moving around your house.
  5. Makeup brushes – Those who use makeup may find great use out of the brands found on this article by Byrdie. If you find any of those too expensive, Amazon does have some tools you could use: 
  6. Sex and maintaining your sexual health are occupations. So, for those 18+ who are interested in this topic stay tuned for more articles that discuss this in more depth. 

2. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) 

Official definition: Activities you do that support daily life in the home and general community.

Specific occupations include taking care of any pets and animals, raising any kids you may have, managing your money, house chores, getting around your community, using any tools to communicate, any spiritual or religious expression/practice, staying and maintaining safety during emergencies, and shopping.

In other words: As a young adult you can almost think of these as the things that allow you to stay connected with your community and ensuring your home is well kept 

  1. Use a calendar – This tip is great for memory. If you are like me and my partner, it is often easy to forget any important meetings or appointments with everything we got going on.
    Having both a physical and digital calendar allows us to easily be reminded of the things we need to do.

    For calendar apps, make sure you put on reminders for appointments. Set these reminders for 1 day and 2 hours before the event.
  2. Money – This tip is great for memory or reducing the amount of stuff on your mind. Trying to manage your money can be difficult. This is why I use apps like Mint, which is an app that allows you to link your bank accounts into one convenient app.

    This allows you to see exactly how much money you have total as well as notify you of any upcoming bills you may have. It does require some set-up but tutorials like this one from Ryan McGregor, provides a great tutorial on how to get started.
    You can download the Mint app from these (non-sponsored) links:

    iOS https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mint-budget-expense-manager/id300238550

    Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mint&hl=en_US&gl=US
  3. Using stickers to help with awareness This tip is very useful for those who may have vision challenges. If you find yourself struggling to find things like in the kitchen when preparing meals, you may benefit from placing large stickers on the sides of your cooking area.

    These serve as reminders that you have scanned the entirety of your cooking area. If it’s not in these boundaries then it could be you still need to retrieve it from the refrigerator or drawer.
  4. Labels and clear containers – This tip is useful for memory. Keeping things in designated containers are great ways to help find the things you need. Simply buy any container that suits your needs (e.g., a large bin for clothes or toys, small ones for skincare products) then with a black sharpie write down what the bin is for like “toys” or “nighttime routine.”
  5. Scanning patterns This is great for those with vision challenges or can be overwhelmed at grocery stores. Spiral scanning (think looking in a growing circle) is helpful for less organized spots in the store (like looking for a specific Squishmallow in a bin full of other stuff).

    Left-to-right scanning can help in more organized aisles of the store (like looking for your favorite cereal in the cereal aisle). In practice this would look like: starting from the left of the top shelf to the right of the top shelf; starting from the left of the middle shelf to the right of the middle shelf, etc.
  6. Wheeled-grocery bags – This is great for those who fatigue quickly or have chronic pain. Assuming you do not have groceries delivered to you, bringing along a wheeled-grocery bag or container can help reduce the amount of strength needed to carry your groceries from the car or bus to your home.

    Because we live on the 4th floor of an apartment building with no elevator, we bring this wheeled bag with us. This allows us to take multiple bags of groceries at one time saving us the energy from needing to climb up and down the stairs.
  7. Bus passes – Most areas have subsidized bus passes for those with disabilities. Applying for one can be done first by searching: how to apply for a bus pass disability near me then clicking on the link that fits your area. Other areas may also have disability transportation services. To find out what services are provided in your area, simply search the following: transportation services for disability near me.

3. Health Management

Official definition: Activities related to developing, managing, and maintaining health and wellness routines, including self-management, with the goal of improving or maintaining health to support participation in other occupations.

These include social and emotional health, symptom/condition management, communicating with health care systems, medication management, physical activity, nutrition management, and management of any needed health devices (like contacts, hearing aids, birth control, etc).

In other words: Essentially these are things you do that support your physical and mental health so that you may do other things you need or want to do. 

  1. Psychology Today This tip is useful for those that are having trouble finding a therapist. To find a therapist in your area that takes your insurance follow this link that leads to the “Find a Therapist” page. You can also sort by specialty and gender.
  2. Pill Organizers – This tip is useful for those with memory challenges. I used to hate using a pill organizer, but ever since Maddie convinced me to use one, it has been very helpful in making sure I take my medications.

    There are many types out there, but the best we’ve found are the ones that split between Day and Night and are color coded.
  3. Meditation/Yoga – This is helpful for those who have mental health challenges. One of the best things that is helpful for me is to go on YouTube and follow along to either guided meditations or yoga stretches. Both have shown to be helpful in improving one’s mental and physical health (Hausswirth et al., 2023; Metri et al., 2023; Pinto et al., 2023).
  4. Keeping a medical log This is useful for those with chronic conditions. One of the realities of having a chronic condition is how your health changes over time. This is why it is useful to keep a log of when you have a flareup or notice anything different from your norm. Doing so allows you to more accurately communicate with your healthcare provider.

    A medical log does not need to be highly detailed, instead it could be kept on your phone in a Notes app. Simply note: Date you noticed something different, time of day, what was happening then (e.g., going on a walk; talking with a friend on the phone), your symptoms (e.g., suddenly tired; blurred vision for x amount of time) 

4. Rest and Sleep

Official definition: Activities related to obtaining restorative rest and sleep to support healthy, active engagement in other occupations.

In other words: We all love sleep, I know I do, but getting proper rest and sleep is important. That is why establishing a good sleep routine and environment are part of this.
To help with this, consider the following: 

  1. Purchasing blackout curtains – As someone whose partner is a NICU night-shift nurse, she often sleeps during the day. This is why she has found blackout curtains essential for her sleep routine.

    Do note, that in my research on this, there are no current studies that look at the effectiveness of blackout curtains on sleep specifically. But personal accounts have indicated a positive impact on sleep. The curtains that we have can be purchased here along with the curtain rods we use:
    The curtains:

    The rods:
  2. Reducing screen time – Blue light can negatively impact one’s sleep quality (Randjelović et al., 2023), while overall screen time can affect sleep length and quality (Rafique et al., 2020). Alternatives to screen time could be reading a book, practicing meditation, doing a crossword puzzle, etc.
  3. Engaging in regular physical activity – A systematic review (a scientific article that collects, analyzes and reports on other scientific studies) found that regular physical activity can improve sleep quality, increase sleep length, and lower the chances of insomnia in adults and the elderly (Wendt et al., 2019)

5. Education 

Official definition: Activities needed for learning and participating in the educational environment.

Education is not necessarily formal education like going to a 4-year university, community college, or vocational school. It also includes any informal education such as learning more about topics of interest or attending non-curriculum-based classes (think piano lessons or going to a group yoga class).

In other words: There are some challenges in learning that you may face when you have a disability. Because of this, we are in the process of creating a guide to approaching higher education as a disabled individual.
In general, these are some things to keep in mind: 

  1. College tuition and materials assistance Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) can provide financial support when it comes to pursuing a degree or certification post-high school. VR can also provide assistance in applying for college.
  2. Accommodations Get in contact with your school’s office of disability to secure accommodations. Although you may have had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) throughout high school, in college it’s a bit different and you need to actively seek out support from your school.
  3. Accommodations are very helpful! This is worth restating, because accommodations in college can increase your academic success. Additionally, both faculty and students, in general, believe that students with disabilities have place in college and are willing to accommodate their needs (Baker et al., 2012; Izzo & Shuman, 2013).
  4. Non-traditional education If you want to learn something just because it interests you, YouTube is a great resource for this. In fact, most of my non-academic learning happens through YouTube. Simply type in the subject you’re interested in and write “for beginners” or “tutorials” or “overview.” 

6. Work

Official definition: Labor or exertion related to the development, production, delivery, or management of objects or services; benefits may be financial or nonfinancial (e.g., social connectedness, contributions to society, structure and routine to daily life).
Work in this sense includes identifying career or job interests, going through the job application process, and performing the job duties. It can also include retirement planning and volunteering.

In other words: Employment is a significant part of a person’s life. Though for someone with a disability, you may find it difficult to find a job that is able to meet your needs or to advocate for any accommodations needed. This is why we have constructed the Ultimate Guide to Employment as a Person with a Disability to help you navigate this. 
In general, these are some things to keep in mind: 

  1. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Provides supported employment services specifically for people with disabilities.
  2. What is supported employment services services provided either by VR or organizations like us that focuses on individualized job coaching that help you develop a resume, apply for jobs, interview prep, and attaining needed accommodations.
  3. Supported employment works – Research on this topic has shown that supported employment leads to positive outcomes for people with disabilities (GarcÍa-Villamisar et al., 2002; Marshall et al., 2014; Wehman et al., 2014). This means that it works and is of huge benefit to you! 

7. Leisure 


Official definition: Nonobligatory activity that is intrinsically motivated and engaged in during discretionary time, that is, time not committed to obligatory occupations such as work, self-care, or sleep. 

In other words: This is anything you enjoy doing in your free time! Some aspects to consider are your hobbies such as gaming. Speaking of, if you are someone who likes to play videogames or are interested in them, see our Ultimate Guide to Accessible Gaming for information on how you can level up your gaming. 

  1. Weighted pencils/brushes – Useful for those with tremors. If you are an artist, weighted pencils/brushes can be amazing to help you continue your hobby (McGruder et al., 2003).

    Alternatively, you can also add metal washers to your already existing tools to create your own weighted tool. Just a few on your tool will do. These are a few examples I found on Amazon. Note: I really could not find washer packs that were less than 100. You most likely can go to your local hardware store to get what you need.
    Washers:


    Weighted Pencils:
  2. Screen magnifiers Useful for those with low vision. If you like to watch movies on your phone or tablet, then a screen magnifier may be the cheapest way of enlarging your screen to make it easier to see and read. From my research, this screen magnifier is the best in design overall.

    However, do note that because these are just larger magnifying glasses, visual quality may look weird from certain angles.
  3. Book magnifiers – Useful for those with low vision. If reading is more your type and you like having a physical book in your hands, book magnifiers are great to assist you with reading. This is the best book magnifier I could find on Amazon.

8. Social Participation 

Official definition: Activities that involve social interaction with others, including family, friends, peers, and community members, and that support social interdependence. 

In other words: Essentially, anything that involves active participation with people you know, want to get to know, and others in your community. 
These are some ways to build your own community: 

  1. Meet-up groups – If you are looking for people who may share the same interests as you in your local area, you can try out social group websites like meetup.com. Reddit.com also has great smaller communities that may suit your interests/hobbies.

    NOTE: Remember to always practice safety whether it is online or in-person. NEVER give out any personal information like your home address, phone number, or credit/debit card information especially when you are meeting people for the first time.

    Always exercise caution and have someone you know and trust either attend group meetups with you or at least let them know where you’ll be.
  2. Scheduling calls – As we get older, it can get harder and harder to keep up with friends or family that you’ve been around your entire life. This is why it can be helpful to schedule a time to call friends and family.
  3. Join a gym/health club – The gym/health club is a great way to meet people as they usually have workout classes. The gym is also where many people around your age tend to go and contrary to what social media shows, gyms goers are typically very friendly and willing to help newcomers out.

    Most are there to stay active and healthy. In my personal experience, gyms like Planet Fitness to be less intimidating than other big named gyms. 

Conclusion

Leaving high-school and entering the “real world” of adulthood may seem like an intimidating thing. As someone with a disability it can seem doubly so as individuals with disabilities tend to have more responsibilities to manage, especially once they leave the structured environment of school. But that does not mean all is lost.

If you are interested in learning more about what you can do to get a better grasp on becoming an adult, subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed on the latest articles that we publish on assistive technology, higher education, independent living skills, and employment. In the meantime you can read our ultimate guides on Employment, Accessible Gaming, and Higher Education by following each of these links. 

References

  • Baker, K., Boland, K., & Nowik, C. (2012). A Campus Survey of Faculty and Student Perceptions of Persons with Disabilities. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1002143
  • García-Villamisar, D., Wehman, P., & Navarro, M. (2002). Changes in the quality of autistic people’s life that work in supported and sheltered employment. A 5-year follow-up study. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279899736_Changes_in_the_quality_of_autistic_people’s_life_that_work_in_supported_and_sheltered_employment_A_5-year_follow-up_study
  • Hausswirth, C., Schmit, C., Rougier, Y., & Coste, A. (2023). Positive Impacts of a Four-Week Neuro-Meditation Program on Cognitive Function in Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20021361
  • Izzo, M., & Shuman, A. (2013). Impact of Inclusive College Programs Serving Students with Intellectual Disabilities on Disability Studies Interns and Typically Enrolled Students. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1026886.pdf
  • Marshall, T., Goldberg, R., Braude, L., Dougherty, R., Daniels, A., Ghose, S., George, P., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. (2014). Supported employment: assessing the evidence.. Psychiatric services. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.201300262
  • Metri, K., Raghuram, N., Narayan, M., Sravan, K., Sekar, S., Bhargav, H., Babu, N., Mohanty, S., & Revankar, R. (2023). Impact of workplace yoga on pain measures, mental health, sleep quality, and quality of life in female teachers with chronic musculoskeletal pain: A randomized controlled study.. Work. https://doi.org/10.3233/wor-210269
  • Pinto, N., Sarmento, V., Sousa, R., Girão, Á., & Frota, M. (2023). School-Based meditation in adolescents: an integrative literature review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. https://doi.org/10.1515/ijamh-2022-0059
  • Rafique, N., Al-Asoom, L., Alsunni, A., Saudagar, F., Almulhim, L., & Alkaltham, G. (2020). Effects of Mobile Use on Subjective Sleep Quality. Nature and Science of Sleep. https://doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S253375
  • Randjelović, P., Stojanović, N., Ilić, I., & Vučković, D. (2023). The effect of reducing blue light from smartphone screen on subjective quality of sleep among students. Chronobiology international. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2023.2173606
  • Wehman, P., Chan, F., Ditchman, N., & Kang, H. (2014). Effect of supported employment on vocational rehabilitation outcomes of transition-age youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities: a case control study.. Intellectual and developmental disabilities. https://doi.org/10.1352/1934-9556-52.4.296
  • Wendt, A., Flores, T., Silva, I., & Wehrmeister, F. (2019). Association of physical activity with sleep health: A systematic review. Revista Brasileira de Atividade Física & Saúde. https://doi.org/10.12820/RBAFS.23E0057.
Author Nathan Baniqued, CEO and Founder of OTernative Perspectives

About the Author

Nathan Baniqued (he/him)

Nathaniel (Nathan) Baniqued OTD, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist who received his doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis, MO in 2023. Originally from O’ahu, HI, Nathan has had 7+ years of experience working with individuals with disabilities in various jobs and settings such as public education, supported employment, and outpatient clinics. The spark that began his desire to work with people with disabilities was after a medical event at 11 years-old when he was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease Stage 3A.

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