by Angela F. Williams, Easterseals blog writer
People with disabilities of all genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnicities have a history of making the world and our communities richer, better places. What potential do we then lose when we allow barriers to prevent our fellow humans from participating?
Some of the most groundbreaking inventions and innovations throughout human history have been inspired and conceived by people with disabilities. Some of these figures are household names: Thomas Edison, Temple Grandin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci and Stephen Hawking. But while many of the contributions of people with disabilities are in the mainstream, their names are often left out of the history textbooks and out of the conversation.
I recently came across a New York Times article that told the story of the OXO brand; A husband and wife teamed up to create a product that would be comfortable for Betsy, the wife, to hold (she had arthritis). As a result, they came up with a line of kitchen products based on the philosophy of universal design. While I had seen the company’s products lining the shelves of many major department stores, the story behind it, and the fact that it was created for all hands, escaped me. According to the article, it has somehow escaped many people, too. This is just one of the many stories of inventions born of necessity for people with disabilities but ultimately adopted by people of all abilities. See also: The typewriter, text messaging, and the talking remote.
Even with all these accomplishments, the movement towards an accessible and inclusive society continues. Is our notion of what it means to contribute to society even inclusive of people with disabilities?
Right now, society is at a crossroads. People are paying closer attention to social issues that are important to them, looking for ways to be more involved. However, for society to continue to improve for all people living in it, we must face tough decisions about our institutions. Finding and removing the barriers within those institutions will be a challenging process.
At Easterseals, one barrier that is in the forefront of our minds is health care. Threats to Medicaid are looming, and additional cuts or caps to Medicaid will severely impact the services we provide. In fact after past cuts to Medicaid, 62% of our clients surveyed (including individuals with disabilities and seniors) were unable to access services like employment and training programs due to a lack of community provider options. We grapple with this reality while still working with people with disabilities to overcome barriers, some of which are societal in nature. As a result, we support some of society’s most powerful change agents. What kind of society will they want to create?
Michael, 34, an Easterseals Thrive supporter and freelance writer, said, “Traditionally, if you ask someone what they do, they’ll talk about their job. A lot of avenues are closed to me due to my mental health and to a lesser extent my physical health. My depression has significantly hindered my ability to succeed in academics which has, in turn, closed a lot of doors for me to achieve gainful employment. This further exacerbates my depression.
“Individuals are capable of contributing in more ways than economically. Simply being a good friend or an emotional support for other people can be a means of adding to society. Being someone who other people can rely on when they’re having a rough time is a remarkably useful ability. I think that this form of emotional labor has been undervalued traditionally, but that it is finally starting to come around as a viable source of worth for one’s self and within a community.”
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength and well-being of our country.
Plus, it’s a great excuse for a barbeque!
Though many of us think of the traditionally able-bodied worker when they think of celebrating the national holiday, we at Easterseals are mindful that an impressive portion of our American workforce is comprised of adults with disabilities who are living successful, productive lives and contributing to America’s prosperity.
Still, the statistically low employment of adults with disabilities show us the untapped potential of the workforce.
“Like any individual, a person with a disability has unique talents and abilities that can contribute significantly to an employer’s bottom line,” wrote Debbie Bell, writer for the Los Angeles Business Journal. “Inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce is not only good for business but our society as a whole. When people are employed they gain self-sufficiency, including the ability to pay rent or buy a home, patronize stores, pay taxes and contribute economically to our communities and nation.” (Read the entire article here.)
Bell added that a common myth surrounding employing someone with a disability is the cost related to providing ADA-compliant accommodations. However, she wrote, most accommodations cost less than $500, and research shows that those who employ people with disabilities see a $28 return on investment in these accommodations. What’s more: The turnover rate for employees with disabilities is 8 percent, as compared to 45 for other employees.
The 2016 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium revealed that Florida businesses could do better in employing people with disabilities. Florida ranks 39th in the 50-state ranking, with an employment rate of 39.1. Compared with Wyoming, the leader, which boasts a 57.1 employment rate for employees with disabilities.
How can we all help? One way Easterseals advocates for those with disabilities is by assisting members of Congress and their staff, White House and federal agency officials, and representatives of other national interests -- as well as citizens like you -- to understand and act in support of policies and programs that help people with disabilities to live with equality, dignity and independence.
Join Easterseals today in educating and informing public officials about issues that affect individuals with disabilities. Join our Legislative Action Network at http://www.easterseals.com/necfl/get-involved/advocacy/ to get started.
This Labor Day, let us celebrate all the American workers who usher in prosperity to the United States of America and recognize the incredible value individuals with disabilities bring to our thriving economy.
Throughout the Sunshine State, eager candidates are peppering rights-of-way with red, white and blue elections signs. They’re signs of the time as August 28 is Primary Election Day in Florida quickly approaches.
Easterseals encourages members of the community to voice their support of causes and programs that help people with disabilities achieve independence and reach their potential. (Learn more on how to be an advocate for those with disabilities.)
Below is a recent blog post by Beth Finke, Interactive Community Coordinator at Easterseals Headquarters, about how we can collectively work to bring issues that matter to people with disabilities into the spotlight. Where to we start? Beth knows. Read on…
How Can We Bring Disability Issues to the Forefront of Elections?
By Beth Finke
With cyber concerns in the news these days, many polling places are considering returning to paper ballots in future elections. I get that, but here’s the thing: many people with disabilities cannot mark paper ballots without assistance.
I’m one of those people. I am blind, and without being able to read a paper ballot, I rely on special voting machines equipped with earphones in order to vote privately and independently.
But now, according to Michelle Bishop, a voting rights advocate for the National Disability Rights Network, the return to paper ballots in polling places could make poll workers less comfortable with operating machine-based systems. In a Stateline article, Bishop pointed out that with half of Americans voting using paper ballots now, untrained poll workers are discouraging the use of accessible voting machines at the polling places. From the article:
“It’s a constant complaint from voters with disabilities nationwide,” Bishop said. In the last election, for example, a voter called her to report that a machine was placed in the corner, turned off, with a flower wreath hung on it.
“The message is: You’re not wanted here,’” Bishop said. “We get reports of poll workers discouraging their use. They say, ‘I haven’t been well trained,’ ‘It’s intimidating to me,’ ‘We’ll set it to the side and get through Election Day.’’’
The article said an October study by the Government Accountability Office shows that nearly two-thirds of the 137 polling places inspected on Election Day 2016 had at least one impediment to people with disabilities. Among the infractions:
My polling place is right across the street from where I live. Others aren’t as fortunate. Many struggle to find transportation to polling places, and along with the lack of training for poll workers, limited access to registration materials and insufficient resources for election officials — well, it’s easy to understand why we can get discouraged.
A survey of voters in the 2016 election by Rutgers University reported a decline in voter participation among people with disabilities. That, in turn, discourages political parties from targeting “get out the vote” efforts to people who have disabilities.
“We’re segregating in the way we vote,” Bishop said in that Statesman article. “Separate is not equal. That’s a lesson this country should have already learned by now.”
More than 35 million people with disabilities are eligible to vote in the U.S. That makes the potential for the disability community to bring disability issues to the forefront of elections (and to hold elected officials accountable for policies and decisions that affect people with disabilities) pretty high. But it all starts with getting more people with disabilities registered to vote.