The Disabled Community

Welcome to The Jungle.

As a blind woman, I speak frankly about my community. I do not sugar-coat our realities, and I make it a point to not hide anything that may be "too negative" or pessimistic when it comes to my community. The disabled population in the United States has fought for decades to receive the most basic of human rights, and we're still fighting this battle. When I educate about disability and share with non-disabled individuals just how much discrimination we experience, I am often met with disbelief, horror and some colorful language. What really surprises me though, is the lack of follow through. 

I have met hundreds of able-bodied individuals that vow to take up the fight and advocate for disability rights, but I have found this is mostly a heat-of-the-moment promise instead of a lifestyle change. In turn, the community is often defending itself on all fronts - socially, politically, economically, physically, and emotionally. 

Within our nation and our state, we have serious work to do when it comes to people with disabilities. Ensuring disabled individuals have access to education, employment, healthcare, and all other rights United States citizens get to enjoy is not something politicians actively pursue. To illustrate this, I will share with you a few little known facts about the disabled population and the laws that create barriers for our community. 

1. It is legal to pay someone with a disability less than minimum wage 

Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are authorized, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay sub-minimum wages (SMWs)—wages less than the federal minimum wage—to workers who have disabilities “for the job being performed.” Due to this legislation, people with disabilities have been seen throughout the US making hourly wages as low as $2.50 an hour. 

2. Disabled individuals on Medicaid cannot get married and be guaranteed their healthcare or benefits.

SSI and Medicaid are needs-based and focus on current assets and income. If you are on SSI and/or Medicaid and you marry a partner not on those programs, your partner’s income and assets are taken into consideration, and so both of your incomes and assets will be used to determine your eligibility. Because the assets and income combined often becomes too high to qualify for these programs, many disabled people have lost their SSI and Medicaid benefits. As a result, some disabled people have been forced to divorce and live separately in order to keep SSI and/or Medicaid. If both partners are on SSI and/or Medicaid, they have an even higher risk of losing their benefits. Not only would their income and assets be combined, but they are also hit by a marriage penalty. Married couples are allowed to have less in assets than the partners would be allowed to have as individuals. They receive a maximum total benefit that’s significantly less than what they would receive on individual benefits, and is in fact only slightly more than one person’s individual benefits.

3. There are no training standards, health standards, or “certifications” for service dogs or their handlers. 

As a service dog handler myself, this is something we need to address. The ADA currently allows anyone to train their own service dog. This opens the door for anyone with a disability to have a service dog regardless of finances. However, it also creates a massive loophole for service dog fraud, and causes confusion among the public in the differences between types of working dogs. There are no health or hygiene standards, but open public access to grocery stores and restaurants. We need to allow disabled individuals to update and amend the ADA to include safeguards for our service dogs too. 

4. Public schools are the only places of learning that are legally obligated to provide learning accommodations per federal law. (But only support a student to 21yo)

For students with disabilities, private school is not an option. Publicly funded schools are the only types of education institutions that are legally required to accommodate a student with a disability.  Due to this, private schools often do not have the resources to give disabled students their accommodations. However, publicly funded schools can only provide the accommodations they have access to. Specialized learning materials, tutors, or 1 on 1 classroom instruction are not accommodations widely used or accessible to public school children. 

To learn more about my stance on Education, click here. 

Bottom line, people with disabilities need the governments support to ensure our rights, because we have not been able to rely on the general public to provide things like access, healthcare and education for our community. I've decided, at least for my district, the only person who will advocate for the disabled, are disabled people themselves.