People with Physical Disabilities Need Access To Treatment

By Kelly Burch 07/19/17

Treatment programs don’t often have the ability to accommodate people who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, and this needs to change.

woman in wheelchair using the ramp to access building

When Josh Chilton realized that he needed inpatient treatment to overcome his opioid addiction, he had nowhere to turn. Because Chilton has been using a wheelchair since an accident in high school that left him paralyzed, he needed an accessible treatment facility—something that is very difficult to find. 

Chilton eventually found the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was able to accommodate his wheelchair. But after 30 days his insurance demanded that he step-down his care and he once again struggled to find a facility that could meet his needs. 

“As we began to look for a sober house for me we encountered a big problem. In the entire city of St. Paul there was not one sober house that was handicap accessible,” Chilton wrote on his GoFundMe page.  

Instead of paying $600 to $800 per month, which he says is a normal sober home fee in St. Paul, Chilton had to live at The Fellowship Club at Hazelden, a medical facility where the cost is $4,500 per month—none of which is covered by his insurance. 

Chilton’s story illustrates a huge barrier to recovery for people with physical handicaps. Treatment centers and sober homes often don’t have the ability to accommodate people who use wheelchairs, walkers or other assistive devices. 

"I think it’s probably not just here, but all over," Sandy Greenquist from The Recovery Church in St. Paul, told Fox 9 News, which covered Chilton’s story.

Recovery homes and treatment centers aren’t open to the general public, so they don’t have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Owners of sober homes told Fox 9 that they can’t afford the renovations necessary to make their facilities more accessible. "Many of the sober homes are older homes," Kim Anton, a recovery activist, told Fox 9. "It’s not just building a ramp, it’s a full renovation.”

People with physical disabilities can be at increased risk for pain, depression and access to prescription medication—all of which can increase their risk for substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

Chilton says that his experience of struggling to find treatment and sober living options has brought back negative feelings about his disability. “I have felt like a burden to society and my family for a long time,” he writes. “This situation exacerbated those feelings because although being paralyzed was not my choice, it was forcing my family to spend money that they could not afford to spend.”

Chilton is now working to raise awareness about the issue and start an accessible sober home in the Twin Cities. "I'm going to fight for this cause because it gives me purpose, but also because it’s the right thing to do," Chilton told Fox 9.

On his GoFundMe page, he says that the project has given him renewed purpose. “I believe that everyone deserves a chance to recover from the disease of addiction regardless of their physical abilities,” he wrote. “I intend on being a voice for those with disabilities in recovery.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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