Unless you know someone with a disability, you probably aren’t aware of all of the barriers we face, when trying to become independent, self-sufficient citizens. We are about to see a great boom in the elderly population. While elderly individuals face many of the same issues those of us with disabilities face, there are significant differences, as well. So, while the elderly will be taking up some of the resources that those of us with disabilities need, many of them have already contributed in the workforce. They are retiring.
There are many people with disabilities who want to work. Granted, some people with disabilities cannot work due to the severity of their disability. However, there is a large population of us who want to contribute. We want to have jobs, but there are barriers preventing us from working. So, as the population of elderly swells, it would be in the best interest of our country to eliminate said barriers.
One of the largest barriers is healthcare. We need healthcare to be independent. Healthcare provides us with the equipment we need to get out of the house and have a job. It buys our wheelchairs. Most people in this country could not buy a wheelchair on their own, and there is no long term financing options. Without these chairs many of us can’t leave our beds. It also pays for things so we can bathe and transfer from chair to bed. Essentially, with these things we can be independent.
I have seen people with disabilities do amazing things once they have the tools they need to be independent. Heck, I can make films! If I didn’t have my wheelchair, I couldn’t do anything. Unfortunately, most people have to live in abject poverty to qualify for healthcare. Our needs won’t allow us to buy into a health plan, because most of those programs won’t buy some of the things we need. One of those major things is PCA care.
While a few states have independent programs that allow people with disabilities to have a few hours of care and work, for the majority of us, especially those of us was severe disabilities who require more PCA or Nursing services, we must qualify for Medicaid. Then we can get Medicaid waiver, which pays for PCA care and other essential services. While some programs offer buy-ins, so we can work, they are often complex to figure out, and many people are at risk of losing their care, when the program kicks them off for some obscure rule they had no idea they were breaking. The real risk is ending up in a nursing home, which will happen when many of us lose care. It is not only ridiculous to put someone in their 20s or 30s in a nursing home, but it cost taxpayers way more to put us in these homes! It costs, on average, $100,000 per person. It is much cheaper to keep us in our own homes.
Another barrier is access to work. This includes access to education. People with disabilities have been fighting for the right to go to college since the 1960s. It is still a work in progress. In primary and secondary schools, children with disabilities face significant barriers when it comes to equality in the classroom, access to fair and accessible testing, lack of empathy or understanding from instructors who often ignore special needs, sometimes because they have too many kids in their class and cannot devote the time to children with special needs, and the many barriers administrators put in place for these children.
By the time children with disabilities are approaching the age when they must consider college, nobody is encouraging them to attend, unless they happen to have a devoted teacher or family member. They are on their own when attempting to figure out how accessible college will be, and are limited in their choices when attempting to attend a truly accessible college. The most accessible colleges may not have a decent program in the area of study they are pursuing. They must either sacrifice accessibility or their major.
If they have managed to get through college, they will be lucky to be hired. Last year, a little over 17% of people with disabilities were employed. That means that close to 80% of the millions of Americans with disabilities had no jobs. The Department of Labor puts the unemployment rate of people with disabilities at nearly double that of people without disabilities. The vast majority of my friends have some form of higher education. Many have at least a Master’s degree, yet no one will hire them. If they want to work, they often have to create their own companies.
In the UK, some of my comrades with disabilities are protesting cuts to the fund that provides care, so they can remain independent and in their homes. Recent statistics show there is a billion people, in the world, with disabilities. The majority of us are fighting to remain independent if we’ve been lucky enough to attain it. Things need to change! We CAN contribute to society. We just need the support. Help us remove the barriers in our way.
Tell Congress to raise the amount we can earn before we lose our healthcare, and keep protections in place that allow us access to education. The ADA helps, but it is time we revised it, to better suit the needs of people with disabilities in the 21st century.