Disabled Americans Want Work Now members will attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Saturday. Then they return to work to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities and reduce poverty.
As Access Living’s community organization project, DAWWN includes people with a variety of disabilities from communities across the city. The group is currently working to prevent the state from withdrawing its commitments and encouraging the city to do more to improve access to jobs, said organizer Rene David Luna.
The ADA outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities and, along with grassroots activism that was often accompanied by civil disobedience, led to improved access to public transport and public buildings and services.
“There is progress on civil rights, but economic progress is lacking,” Luna said. “The poverty rates are extremely high, the employment gap is enormous. It’s similar to other communities – you win civil rights protection, but then what? “
Only 20 percent of people with disabilities are gainfully employed. People with disabilities of working age had a poverty rate of 28.4 percent in 2013 – more than double the rest of the population.
Poverty and disability are closely related. A study shows that two thirds of people living in poverty have long-term disabilities. Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, according to Rebecca Vallas and Shawn Fremstad of the Center for American Progress: a cause of employment and educational barriers, lower incomes and the additional cost of living; a consequence because poor people have less access to health care and prevention services and a greater chance of working in environments where their health and safety are at risk.
“Disabled people live in the poorest areas with much poorer access to jobs and good education,” said Luna. “There are many obstacles. It’s the kind of social issue that is not addressed – when we talk about poverty, we are not talking about people with disabilities.
The problem is complex, said Luna. “For working class people, as we get older, accidents happen, illnesses, you may have to take vacation and become disabled. Getting back to work can be very difficult. ”When you’re trapped in a nursing home after an injury or illness, it’s doubly difficult, he said.
The city needs to make a thorough assessment of its policies and programs, Luna said. As a possible model, he refers to the state Task Force Employment and Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities. The task force was instrumental in enforcing laws that shift government support away from sheltered workshops that pay sub-minimum wages – some as low as $ 2 a day – to integrated employment.
Now Governor Bruce Rauner appears to be pulling out of that commitment, Luna said. Rauner has also cut funding for home services for people with disabilities, and his cuts at Medicaid have limited the availability of long-lasting medical devices such as wheelchairs.
A city task force that ended 10 years ago made some progress – it won the inclusion of people with disabilities in the city’s contract program for minority owned businesses – “but much undone,” Luna said.
He would like a thorough assessment of the city’s record of dealing with the new U.S. Department of Labor regulations requiring state contractors to hire and hire people with disabilities above the minimum wage. (DOL’s goal is that 7 percent of the state contractor workforce should be people with disabilities.) How are urban contractors doing on state-funded projects?
And much more is needed to improve physical accessibility in the city districts. Luna believes that the city’s collaboration with local business groups and community development agencies could improve physical access to small businesses as well as access to jobs.
“We must the [employment] Pay high, ”he said. “What is the city doing to help?”
Officials are likely to be promoting their achievements in promoting disability rights in the next few days – and that’s good for them. But there is still more to be done.