Sunday, March 24, 2019
Disability Rights

Barack Obama’s Policy on Disability: Segregation is the Way…

It is my belief that no group or individual benefits from segregation in any way, shape, or form. When I moved to Michigan, I was enlightened by my girlfriend with the practices of the school system she went to for K-12. Being from Ohio, I was mainstreamed into your average, every day high school. Granted, my high school experience was less than stellar, but I have come to realize that this really depends on how much the school is willing to do to assist its students with disabilities.

School systems get money from the government for every disabled student in their system. This means that every year, my school received money from the government to provide services that I needed such as a P.A. (personal assistant). A P.A. is used to assist with getting books from a locker or book bag, helping the student get their lunch, getting out all necessary supplies so the student is ready for class, and for some disabled people this may include having someone to write work while the student dictates what needs to be written.

My school was cheap and/or greedy. They took the money and left me to my own devices. I have friends throughout Ohio who did benefit from a caring school system that saw their needs were met and had a P.A. or whatever other services they might need. Regardless, being mainstreamed did help me in some way. I knew what it was like to interact with people not in wheelchairs. I dealt with discrimination and misunderstanding early on, and I learned to fight for my needs and rights as a human being because nothing was ever handed to me on a silver platter or given to me to pacify me.

I digress. This was a foreign concept to my girlfriend, Ashtyn. Not one disabled person attended her school, which was about five times bigger than my own, small community High School. As her mother said, they were all bused to the school suited for the disabled. There, they were segregated and got the services they needed. While it’s nice they received services all schools should have by default, the segregation part isn’t nice. How is a disabled person going to react in the real world, where not everybody is disabled, once school is over? Sheltering those with disabilities is not the way to guide them towards becoming successful, self-sufficient adults. In my opinion, this school district was just helping to add to a major problem plaguing the disabled community; unemployment.

I’m not just talking about people in wheelchairs either. The entire disabled populace (that’s a number in the millions here in America) has an unemployment rate estimated around 77%. This is not including those who are disabled and institutionalized due to lack of care available, which would allow these individuals to live independent lives. The problem is so bad that as much as 90% of those with disabilities are believed to live below the poverty level.

To understand this situation, first you have to understand why disabled people are unemployed in such large numbers. Workplace discrimination is still allowed based on disability. There is also no way of proving discrimination on the basis of disability unless an employer flat out says, “No Disabled Allowed” akin to the “No Irish Need Apply” of the 19th and early 20th century. Most employers are smart enough to keep such blatant discrimination to themselves. Nevertheless, it does happen, and without any way of protecting disabled employees, not much can be done about this.

Most workplaces aren’t geared towards the needs of an employee with a disability so often, it is just easier, to decline hiring one who may be highly qualified for a position. In many instances, the disabled individual may even be over qualified or better qualified than able-bodied counterparts, but the disability prevents them from getting the job. Quite often, people with disabilities have had to take advantage of the growing Internet and pave their own way by making their own companies, in order to be successful in the workforce.

This isn’t the real problem, though. The main problem is the fact that people with disabilities have to depend on government services to assist in the payment of things like wheelchairs, adaptive equipment, and other health care benefits and services. If the person does not have these things they can’t get around or function. Forget about working. Without health insurance a $10,000-$25,000 wheelchair (and trust me, for a power chair, that’s the average price for most) is unattainable. However, the government penalizes disabled employees who make what they deem as “too much” money and they start to lose services. For most, this can be as low as an extra $1400 before services start getting cut.

Without healthcare there is no option for someone with a disability so it is common for this person to have to quit their job or risk losing their insurance. Not everyone is lucky enough to have employers that offer insurance. For someone with a disability, this is often the case, so working is more harmful than being unemployed considering the detrimental affect the loss of services will have on the individual with a disability.

You’d think the solution would be as simple as Hillary Clinton says. Her goal is to remove this penalty so those with disabilities can keep their government benefits, like health insurance, and work at a job that is going to pay them enough to rise above the poverty level. That seems like the way to go, which brings me to how Barack Obama figures into this entire equation. I should say I’m pretty liberal. I believe in fair and equitable treatment for all minority groups. As a minority I have felt the pangs of discrimination and they are not pleasant. As someone who is also a minority, one would think that Mr. Obama would have a bit more compassion and understanding towards another minority group, but apparently he does not.

When asked about his solution towards the employment crisis in the disabled community, his response was to have more sheltered workshops. In a nice way, he was saying, let’s segregate the disabled populace and allow them to make less than they deserve, because that’s what sheltered workshops are all about. We need to point out the differences, pity the disabled and not give them any true career options while still penalizing them for making any money. Doesn’t he realize that the government benefits need to remain or no one will be able to take advantage of his sheltered workshops? Apparently not.

For those who do not know about what sheltered workshops are, let me explain. Basically, like the segregated school system in Michigan, people who have disabilities and are, as the government likes to call them, “disadvantaged” are employed by a sheltered workshop. This environment is made up of all kinds of “disadvantaged” employees. This way, those of us with disabilities cannot go around infecting the regular workforce with our willful ways. All of the folks with disabilities are said to work in less productive numbers than a normal workforce because less expectations are put on them. Therefore, companies that work with the sheltered workshops are willing to “take a cut” in order to accommodate the disadvantaged.

Ugh! I cannot even express how prejudicial and discriminatory these workshops are. They were started in the 1950s to get previously, locked in the backroom “gimpies” out of the house and into doing something productive. It’s an outdated practice for the 21st century yet the vast majority of governmental funds still go to these workshops despite the fact that they are unfair and not doing much to combat the unemployment rate afflicting the disability community.

Furthermore, sheltered workshops do not make those with disabilities productive. According to statistics on the differences between sheltered workshops and regular, mainstream employment, those with disabilities made over $150 more per week than those working through a sheltered workshop. Even those believed to be inferior mentally (due to Down Syndrome or another, similar condition) made as much as $100 more per week in the mainstream workforce. In all cases, those with disabilities were as qualified as their able-bodied workers and some were even over-qualified. Additionally, only 3.5% of those in sheltered workshops moved on into a mainstream job, which counters a popular argument in support of these workshops, which says they are a stepping stone for the disabled, towards being mainstream employed.

So, this is the solution by Barack Obama? I know he happened to be over in Indonesia during the height of the Civil Rights movement, but how can anyone who quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. be so willing to segregate anyone? I know that he thinks his solution is beneficial for the disabled, but it’s not. It shows a lack of forethought, knowledge of the subject, and a discriminatory nature. This is just one reason why, I will never vote for Barack Obama, and why you should consider looking over his other policies towards minorities, the economy, the war, and other topics of interest to the American public. He talks a big game, but in truth, he’s all bark and no bite.

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2 Comments

  1. I am an employment counselor. I frequently read this sort of rant against sheltered workshops, but I would have the readers consider alternatives offered and the reality of the job market. Sheltered workshops also called Community Employment Centers are legally allowed to pay their employees less than minimum wage, solely based upon their productivity. This is much of the source of the charge of exploitation. But, they are one of the few sites for simple work left in the economy. Yes, some of their jobs might still occur in other factories, but often the worker might be expected to move back and forth among simple and complex jobs. What would make jobs complex?
    I recently visited a small factory that made and packaged adhesives (mostly construction adhesives). For the compounders, they had to compute weights of each component in kilograms down to two decimal places for the ratios of components. And then they had to carefully measure out the materials. If they over ran one item, they then had to compute the various make-up amounts. Then the mixer was run and when all the materials were mixed, the material had to be put into packages. While the material mixed, the required number of containers were prepared. Again a lot of computation. This was not a company setting out to exclude employees, but one that was seriously seeking employees. But their employees needed to have done well in math in high school, not just passed. Almost all companies now require their employees to be able to enter information into computers. The fear of computers I see in older workers makes them unemployable. We do need companies that can still do jobs in an old-fashioned way for all those employees that work slower or who have not mastered computer controled machines or who have not mastered complicated set-ups done in metric measure. We need jobs where people can just work hard, not smart, to do the job. By 2025 something like 85% of jobs will need some college (usually community college) to do the job. It may not be all the job, but esential parts.
    Even traditional “simple jobs” such as landscaping or janitorial or food service are becoming more complex. Few of those jobs can be done without reading both numbers and words. Accurate measurement is often eimportant. Even janitors need to be able to read and understand chemical names and know what can and cannot be mixed. Everything comes concentrated and is mixed to a working solution. And janitors now operate floor scrubbing machines and carpet cleaning machines, not just push a broom. Workshops and rehabilitation organizations do provide job coaches (badly underpaid and often poorly trained) to teach the newer jobs systematically and to competency. However they will become a permanent part of the employment picture because jobs change every few years and until that work force can do their own learning they will need the job coach, who is an additional expense. And those who complain about taxes will say it is cheaper to give a minimum to keep starvation away than to give that person a real job, especially if it requires two persons to do one person’s job.
    What are the alternatives? There are clubhouses. Originally they were seen as clubs where members learned how to do simple service jobs such as food service, cleaning, and customer assistance while providing those services to other members. But again there is little follow up to move the members out of this kind of segregated setting. Is a club for disabled only any more integrated than an factory for disabled? Is a group home with only disabled residents (usually only from one type of disability) any more inclusive? At least the simplified factory did feel like a job. May factory workers don’t like their jobs any more than this person liked a workshop. (I don’t think he really participated in one, or he would at least express some satisfaction at having some sort of job and having some sort of normality.) But if these are not important to him, he is right. As for being segregated, most jobs are segregated by definition. The employees tend to come from one area, from one socio-economic group, from one outlook. Because that is what is wanted by the employer. They may be integrated by race and religion, but little else. And if special services are needed, we do not generally think of the facility as being “segreated.” We do not call a hospital segreated because is serves sick. We do not call a school segregated because it serves young and uneducated. We do not call a college segregated because it serves academically gifted and striving.
    Of course you can complain and bitch. It is everyone’s right. But, if you want to go beyond griping, you need to propose an alternative that is economically, socially, and practically able to be done and really does overcome your objections.

  2. Thanks for the long and informative comment Tom.

    First, the income limits for social security/SSI/SSDI/Medicare/Medicaid need to be removed (or lifted to higher amounts) from those deemed to be disabled, so they can make some sort of living for themselves and still maintain medical insurance. Many employers and many insurance companies won’t take on employees with disabilities for their insurance plans due to preexisting conditions. It’s not cool or fair. This practice also needs to be changed.

    Second, employers need to get their heads out of their asses and realize that in some instances, a qualified person with a disability is as good a worker (if not better) than an able-bodied individual. It may be economically easier to hire an AB worker, but that doesn’t mean that AB individual is as good at the job as the disabled person could have been.

    Still, by the same token, a disabled person may not be the best candidate. Essentially, hiring an employee should be done on merit, not on AB or disabled status.

    There aren’t many fair opportunities for those with disabilities out there. To survive, many of us have to make our own successes.

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Dominick
Dominick is a director/filmmaker, activist, writer, advocate, FTM transman from the Midwest who lives in New York. Follow his film career and join his weekly Twitter chat on film and disability by following #FilmDis. He received his BFA in Film Production in 2014.