This post was originally shared on my Man, Myth, Mike blog.
In my recent post, The Disabled States of America, I chronicled the rise and major events of the Disability Rights Movement in the US, in this post I would like to explore the continuing battle for disabled equality. As we celebrate a quarter-century with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is important to realize that the struggle is far from over. The goal of fairness and freedom is a continuum of progress build upon itself, forever reaching towards the future. Disabled people in America and around the world still face substantial hardship due to societal inequities and perceptions. As an activist and disabled person myself, I feel that it is important for everyone to be aware of the current challenges.
Disabled activist Frank Bowe, known as the Father of Section 504, once wrote, “America handicaps disabled people. And because that is true, we are handicapping America itself.” The limitations placed on disabled individuals by our culture, not only deny basic rights but also hinder the advancement of our entire society. With around 34 million people in the United States with what is considered a “functional limitation”, it is impossible to ignore the issues associated with one of the largest minorities in this country. Many of those with mental, physical, visible and invisible impairments continue to struggle with lack of accommodation, difficulty getting funding and assistive equipment, poverty, damaging stereotypes, abuse and poor representation. I strongly believe that as a nation and as a global community we need to take a hard look at the treatment of disabled people.
As I mentioned, a major concern for many disabled individuals is poverty, with disability being both a cause and result of being poor. Currently in the US, physically and mentally impaired adults find themselves twice as likely to be living below the poverty line even with government assistance. A fairly recent Huffington Post article (click to read) describes this relationship between disability and poverty as well as a few companies working to break down these barriers. Obviously, not all disabled people are able to work and nor does a person need to work to have value in life, but those who can and desire to work face overwhelming odds in the workforce. The ADA may have helped to legally limit workplace discrimination, however, it is still mainly up to employer to decide what is considered “reasonable accommodation” and some organizations remain legally allowed to pay far below the federal minimum wage. The prospect of economic independence for disabled individuals able to work is still very low despite advances in accessibility and assistive technology.
Another considerable obstacle when it comes to being disabled in the US is the structure of the medical equipment industry. For those who rely on assistive technology, the battle for essential mobility, communication and health related devices can be a lifetime struggle. My family and I have experienced these challenges firsthand, each step of the process as complex and tedious as the last. My blog post from last year, A Work In Progress, discusses some of the challenges of getting a power-wheelchair. Navigating the channels of doctors, insurance companies, service providers and the government is a harrowing task for those familiar with the system and a complete nightmare for the inexperienced. The resources that disabled rights activists fought so hard for do exist but no one teaches you how to be a disabled person.