Access to healthy food is a serious concern for families across metropolitan Chicago—and the risks are even greater for people with disabilities, who face food insecurity at four times the average rate for our region.
Food insecure adults with disabilities are also more likely to experience “very low food security”—the most severe category of lack of access—and less likely to benefit from existing food relief programs because of barriers that prevent access.
31% of households with a working-age member with a disability in the Chicago metro area are food insecure: lacking reliable access to enough healthy food, and at risk of facing hunger. That’s compared to 8% of households with a working-age adult with no disabilities.
Funded by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust, this research report aims to deepen understanding of inadequate food access for adults with disabilities in Cook County.
“Most all of us face a disability ourselves or we have a family member, friend, or neighbor who does,” according to Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “Addressing this disproportionate occurrence of food insecurity among households with adults with disabilities must therefore be of top concern to us all.”
Additional findings from the report include:
Risk of food insecurity among adults with disabilities occurs in every Cook County community, with hotspots throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Areas on the west side of Chicago exhibit the highest need for additional food assistance resources.
Low-income adults with disabilities face many obstacles in getting healthy diets: inadequate financial resources to cover the full cost of living, lack of affordable and accessible transportation to get groceries, difficulty obtaining food appropriate for special diets required by their medical conditions and more.
Improving accessibility at food assistance program locations will alleviate barriers to food security. Study participants described being discouraged from using food pantries by long wait times that present physical challenges; outdoor lines in adverse weather conditions; lack of ramps and elevators at buildings; and the uncertainty of whether there would be food items available that are compatible with their health and medical needs.
Targeted outreach and communication directly with adults with disabilities and disability service providers are needed. Study participants were often unaware of what food resources are currently available to them, or had received conflicting information from different sources.
Policy solutions are needed to change the landscape of food insecurity. Beyond additional resources for food programs, a state budget that adequately funds human services and protecting federal nutrition assistance programs are essential to preventing further increases in food insecurity.
“Exploring the size of the problem specifically in Cook County, the food assistance services that are currently available to adults with disabilities, and the barriers this population faces in accessing adequate food resources is an important first step,” according to the report’s summary of findings. “Strengthening the food assistance safety net and public policy response aimed at eliminating hunger through inclusive planning and collaboration will benefit all.”
As Angela Glover Blackwell writes in The Curb-Cut Effect, “Laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as the disabled or people of color, often end up benefiting all of society. Knock down walls of exclusion and build accessible pathways to success, and everyone gains.”