America nonetheless leaves the disabled behind

Jordan Gallacher hasn’t had a job for three years. Many employers reject it with a form letter or an e-mail, but one said directly, “We don’t hire blind people.”

The 28-year-old Gallacher is a computer expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in management and entrepreneurship from Louisiana Tech University. However, most employers do not give him a second look when they learn that he is blind, even though he can easily operate a computer with a screen reader.

Gallacher is one of almost 57 million disabled people in america.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law passed in 1990 to combat discrimination against the disabled.

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Much has changed for the better since its inception. The aisles of the supermarkets are wider, the schools have ramps and public transport is more accessible for the disabled.

But one thing has worsened for them – employment.

Show me the jobs: Employment for disabled Americans has actually declined since 1990, and there is an even wider gap today between the prospects for disabled and non-disabled jobs.

Employment of disabled workers

In the early 1990s, about half of disabled Americans were employed, according to the census. Today it is only 41%. Part of the decrease is due to an aging population. Older workers are more likely to have disabilities, especially physical ones.

But it is telling that the employment rate of disabled Americans has declined more than that of the non-disabled.

The problems often start at a young age.

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Basic obstacles remain: During his school days, Gallacher had three teachers whom he says did not take his disability into account in their classes. When he got into college, he encountered similar problems, so he moved to Louisiana Tech from another university that didn’t meet his needs at all.

“As the mother of a disabled student, I’ve seen how many schools don’t have usable ramps. I’m just stunned that this educational system didn’t pay more attention to these very obvious symbols of discrimination.” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Disability Independence, who is herself suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

Being completely blind in the small town of Pearl River, Louisiana doesn’t open up many opportunities for Gallacher. He says he might be the only disabled person in his town so people don’t know how to deal with him.

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The only jobs he’s had are volunteering. He still lives with his parents and is grateful that they support him financially.

“I’m always amazed at how many applications I want to fill out online, but can’t get any further because the rest of the offline application is no longer accessible,” said Gallacher. Many companies no longer list the HR department’s contact information so he can’t even call for help.

Income of disabled workers

Low wage jobs: Even for those with jobs, the outlook remains bleak. Disabled people earn significantly less than non-disabled people and the gap between annual earnings has widened since the early 1990s.

Disabled workers earn about $ 9,000 less per year than non-disabled workers, according to the Average Earning Census. That gap was below $ 6,000 in the early 1990s.

A report by the Center for Disability Independence found that the primary occupation for non-disabled people is teaching. For the disabled there are caretaker duties.

Often times, individual companies have to change their policies to really make a difference. Some big companies like that Citigroup ((C.) and Google ((Aco) go the extra mile to include the disabled.

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Positive change: “I think the best I’ve seen [since the ADA] Businesses are starting to look at disability as an element of diversity, “Dooha said.

For example, Citi offers training that is specifically designed to address people with disabilities. Worldwide, Citi has five people with disability networks.

For the past four years, Citi has hosted NYC Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) in New York City. The event promotes the professional development of students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration and ongoing mentoring relationships.

Dooha also commends technical innovations to remove barriers to participation by the disabled.

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Strengthen companies: A healthy five-year-old boy in Charleston, South Carolina contracted meningococcal meningitis and his life changed.

Charles Rogers had his hands and legs amputated below the knee after the terrible illness. But Charles graduated from college and worked on Walmart ((WMT) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for 12 years.

He recently drove to Atlanta and spent six weeks at a hotel training after being promoted to assistant manager.

“I got interviews before I started working with Walmart, but when the interview was over there was no response,” said Rogers. “Walmart actually gave me a chance.”

Walmart is a leading employer for the disabled, offering them training and resource groups.

The more employers encourage disabled people, the better. Customers in wheelchairs often turn to Rogers in the store asking about his job and whether the business is going to close.

“Being out there working in the store is the best I can do to show other disabled people that they can, too,” said Rogers.

CNNMoney (New York) Initial published July 26, 2015 at 9:02 a.m. ET

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