A disability is defined as an impairment that limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks typical for daily activities and interactions (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). The term disability covers a wide range of impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions that are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they fit one or more of the descriptions associated with the legal definition. There were a reported 54 million people with a disability in 2005 (Carr-Ruffino, 2015).
People can suffer in their own way through mental or physical barriers that others are sometimes not aware of, and those barriers can limit a person’s life activities. Generally, these barriers are stereotyped or can create an unconscious bias in and out of the workplace. This is because they do not grasp the struggle of what Americans with disabilities can go through. Even though laws have been enacted to protect Americans with disabilities, it is up to the rest of us to change the perspective these stereotypes have created. Once we begin to understand Americans with disabilities, we can spread awareness that can lead to better inclusion opportunities.
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Disabilities have been around since the beginning of time, and come in many shapes, forms, and severities. There are over 56 million people with disabilities in the United States, with roughly 18.3 million between the ages of 18 and 65 years old (HirePotential, Inc., 2017). About one out of every five people has a disability of some kind, and the disability may or may not be visible or apparent, and everyone has a 20% chance of acquiring a disability at any time (HirePotential, Inc., 2017).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services (United States Department of Justice , 2018).
Sub-Culture Profile and Characteristics
Just about everyone will be disabled in some way at some point in their lives, and anyone can join this sub-culture at any time. To be protected under the ADA, people must either have a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits a major life activity, have a record of the impairment, or are regarded as having the impairment (Carr-Ruffino, 2015, p. 527). There are many types of disabilities that are covered under the ADA, and they include both mental and physical disabilities. According to Carr-Ruffino (2015), mental impairments and mobility impairments create the majority of the group of persons that have disabilities (p. 527).
Many people with mobility impairments find that their disabilities make it difficult for them to find and keep a job. People who have disabilities in general find it more difficult to get hired, and they often earn significantly less than people who do not have disabilities Due to the employment and income gaps that they face, more people with disabilities may feel unsatisfied with their social lives than people who do not have a disability.
People who have disabilities want to be accepted and want to bring down barriers that may cause limitations. They want to be viewed as equals that have equal opportunities and reasonable accommodations, so they can lead normal lives. People who have disabilities value their individuality, and it is important for them to be seen as people rather than as being regarded as synonymous with their disability. They have many of the same values as any other American person, and want the opportunity to lead happy, normal lives.
Another important value to people with disabilities is their independence. They would like to be as self-sufficient as possible and don’t want to be portrayed as dependent or incapable. People with disabilities are usually fully capable of living independently as long as they have the necessary accommodations which allow them to do so.
There are many stereotypes associated with people who have disabilities. Some common stereotypes are that people with disabilities are childlike, dependent, or less of a person, that they are limited and can only perform the simplest of tasks (if they even work), that they create safety risks or are a danger to society, that they are difficult to work with, and that they are unable to lead normal lives and are in constant sorrow (Block, n.d.; Carr-Ruffino, 2015, p. 519-520).
These stereotypes are myths for most people with disabilities. People who have disabilities often learn to adapt and can live quite normal lives. Many people who have disabilities are successfully employed and can do most things as well as anyone else that does not have a disability. It has also been proven that people with disabilities have better safety records, are more productive, and have better attendance rates at work than people who do not have disabilities (Carr-Ruffino, 2015, p. 520).
Disability rights laws were introduced to prohibit discrimination of persons with disabilities in employment, state and local governments, public accommodations, telecommunication, etc. This was the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 which addressed these civil rights laws and allowed the authority of enforcing these laws to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has had significant employment cases that were disputed or resolved over the years for people with disabilities. It is important for these cases to clearly promote an understanding to form a national mandate to ensure enforceable standards that address the discrimination towards this sub-culture. It shows that Congress recognizes though a person has a physical or mental disability, it does not eliminate their human rights as an individual for equal opportunity.
EEOC v. AIC Security Investigations, Ltd., and Ruth Vrdolyak.
The EEOC was litigating that AIC Security Investigations fired Charles Wessel because he had missed work at times due to having cancer. He was able to work but was fired when a new owner that had knowledge of his cancer took over the company. The jury awarded Wessel back pay, compensatory damages, and the maximum amount of punitive damages against both AIC and against the owner of the company (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.). This was the first case ever to be tried before a jury and that makes it a significant case towards the voice of Americans with disabilities.
The American jury trial is considered a constitutional right that highlights inclusion to the fullest extent because courts can overturn laws or acts of government depending on verdict. This means that Charles Wessel, the executive director who filed the complaint, was heard not just for himself, but for all people with disabilities in a court of law. The statement made is that Americans with disabilities subculture now had a voice.
EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Sears was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act when they upheld an uncompromising workers compensation leave exhaustion policy where they fired employees without any compromise for their disabilities. This litigation declared that Sears terminated workers based in their impairments, without considering their ability to return to work or make any pursuit to return them to work. In 2009, the case resulted in a consent decree where both parties came to an agreement or settlement without admission of guilt or liability. The case resulted in the largest monetary recovery in a settlement of a single ADA lawsuit in EEOC history (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.).
This case showed that even after the ADA was enacted in 1990 that there still are disability bias’s. Despite the progress that has been made there is still discrimination of people with disabilities in the workplace. This is considered to be true due to the fact in 2010 only 46% were employed compared to 90% of the labor force (Carr-Ruffino, 2015).
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act has come a long way since it was signed in 1990, future ADA issues still arise in greater demand that requires more progress. Currently, the areas in demand and need improvement are: healthcare, housing, low employment rate, and community services and support (Great Plains ADA Center, 2015). It is apparent that many of the issues that Americans with disabilities face are connected.
Barriers to healthcare for Americans with Disabilities include health care insurance, as well as health programs and services. Health care insurance availability, affordability, and coverage for benefits, including medications, long-term care, durable medical equipment, mental health, rehabilitative and specialty care, and care coordination, are key issues for people with disabilities (Disability, 2009). Yet, people with disabilities often struggle with inadequate access to these resources.
Medicare is reserved for people who have a severe disability, no matter their income. Individuals with low-income living with disabilities may use Medicaid. The nation’s primary health insurance program for people with disabilities and low-income is Medicaid (Disabilities, 2018). It may be challenging to obtain care and services under these health programs as it is difficult to find physicians who will accept Medicaid or Medicare payments. Other issues regarding these two programs are higher copayments, along with high cost to resources, such as needed equipment or short- and long-term care. Due to these issues, many are not able to afford these and go without.
Furthermore, essential healthcare services, such as dental and vison care, are not affordable even under Medicaid. In addition, working-age individuals with disabilities may not get adequate resources from employer-sponsored group health insurance, as it typically only covers basic care, or they may not qualify as some may only work part-time not meeting the requirements to establish healthcare. Private insurance is a rarity as it can be un-affordable and may lack coverage for disability needs.
Living independently is an important value and goal for people with disabilities as it increases their self-determination and minimizes their dependence on others. With the help of housing programs, affordable, accessible housing needs may be offered, and many people with disabilities may utilize these programs to move towards independent living. However, challenges are still faced regardless of the resources available, and many may not be available depending on area of location.
Approximately 4.9 million non-institutionalized Americans with disabilities solely rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), leaving them impacted with an affordability gap (Technical Assistance Collaborative, n.d.). Current data shows that the average income of a single person receiving SSI payments is $9,156, which is approximately 22% below the 2016 poverty level, thus making it difficult to afford the national average rent (in 2016, average rent was $752, or equal to 99% of monthly SSI payments) of a durable unit as it can exceed more than what they receive for monthly SSI payments (Priced out: Fact Sheet, 2017).
Another issue facing the housing crisis are accessibility accommodations, which can be costly to rent or purchase. Homes may need accommodations for special features or technologies to make home living manageable, such as an entrance that has a ramp instead of steps for people who use wheelchairs.
In addition, many individuals with disabilities are at risk to becoming either institutionalized or homelessness when their caregiver starts aging, making it more difficult to care for their needs. The shortage of housing and support services do not help this situation. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the buying, selling, renting or financing of housing towards federally protected classes, yet Americans with disabilities are still facing discrimination when seeking housing. According to 2017 Fair Housing Trends Report, persons with disabilities make up the majority of the complaints (National Fair Housing Alliance, 2017).
According to Carr-Ruffino, person with disability report that their physical condition makes finding and keeping a job more difficult for them (Carr-Ruffino, 2015). In addition, workers with disabilities face substantial gaps in pay and compensation compared to employees who do not have a disability. Negative perceptions regarding productivity, social and interpersonal skills, and lack of ability to adjust to people with disabilities creates barriers that leave them finding it more difficult to get hired. Lower employment rates are found among people with disabilities than people without disabilities. According the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report, only 35.9% of working-age Americans with Disabilities were employed in 2016, compared with 76.6% of working-age Americans without disabilities (University of New Hampshire, 2017).
The previous three main issues are the pillars to the last issue that will be discussed lack of community-based service and support for people living with a disability. As mentioned, individuals with disabilities want to live independently, but some require assistance to the activities of daily life or personal care assistance. Services such as enabling community-based independent living to provide assistance with housing and home care can overcome these barriers. However, very little communities offer this service, ultimately resulting in many individuals ending up in care facilities or nursing homes. The biggest downfall to care facilities and nursing homes is that low-income individuals may see the amount of their SSI lowered for Medicaid to pay for their stay.
The foundation to a majority of these issues to support the disabled community gave rise to the introduction of the Disability Integration Act of 2017 bill. This bill prohibits states or local governments that provide institutional placements for individuals with disabilities who need long-term assistance with daily living activities or health-related tasks, and prohibits insurance providers that fund such long-term services, from denying community-based services that would enable such individuals to live in the community and lead an independent life (Disability Integration Act, 2017). This bill does not amend the Americans with Disabilities Act and is only structured like it to ensure people with disabilities have the right to live an independent life without the alternative to unwanted initialization due to lack of resources, low-income, and un-affordable health care.
When the 1990 Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, it helped provide opportunity, reasonable accommodations, and accessibility to people with disabilities. Despite this act being passed, management and leadership still have challenges and opportunities relating to working with people who have disabilities.
A common challenge for leadership is to make the employee with a disability and their co-workers comfortable. Many people with disabilities must ask for specific accommodations to do their jobs, and accommodations can cost the company money or may impose a greater burden on others in the workplace. This can cause other employees to view the person with a disability in a less favorable light. It is management’s responsibility to make co-workers aware of disability issues and train them in skills for working effectively with theses co-workers.
Another challenge is getting technological support. Technology can substitute for sensory and motor disabilities, which opens options typically considered unavailable to those with certain other disabilities. These technologies, including internet applications, can make it so that many types of work can be done at home, eliminating the transportation barrier for those with disabilities.
Finally, ongoing training and development is another challenge for leadership. Studies have shown that most organizations are less likely to provide training and development opportunities to employees with disabilities than to other employees. This can give those with disabilities more narrow career options as they do not have the tools to grow or get promoted within their company. Leadership needs to provide adequate training and development opportunities and help persons with disabilities to develop career plans.
In addition to some of the challenges faced by leadership regarding persons with disabilities, there are also many opportunities that leadership have in order to build on their strengths. One such strength is when hiring a person with a disability, leadership should provide diversity training for all employees. When diversity training is implemented, it increases employee retention and morale, reduces workplace harassment, and improves recruitment efforts to create a more diverse workforce (Balle, 2018). Leadership can also adopt positive attitudes towards employees with disabilities, focusing on what people can do and move through fear of disablement to accept persons with disabilities as normal persons.
Leadership and employees can change negative language that may normally be used towards people with disabilities. For example, instead of saying that Jim is wheelchair-bound they can say Jim is a wheelchair user. This can help stop people from focusing on the person’s disability, which may make the person synonymous with their disability when using such language, instead of on them being a person.
Successful companies such as Hewlett Packard actively recruits from a pool of disabled workers. Not only do they give these people opportunities that other companies may not, they also benefit from tax credit and write-offs such as the Disabled Access Tax Credit or Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
Finally, leaderships teams stand to make a lot of money by making marketplace connections with workers with disabilities. The U.S. disability market is over 54 million people, and globally it is 1.2 billion people. In 2010 the disabled Americans spending power was $1.5 trillion a year (Carr-Ruffino, 2015). Many companies make no efforts to target this huge market. Hiring persons with disabilities is a valuable resource for understanding this market area and can help create communication bridges for marketing to persons with disabilities.
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