“Together, we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted. For ours will never be a truly prosperous nation until all within it prosper.”
– President George H.W. Bush, at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 25 on Sunday, and it has done a tremendous amount to break down barriers and open doors for people with disabilities. Many of my closest friends and colleagues count themselves members of the “ADA generation” and proclaim with confidence that they would not be where they are today if not for the passage of this watershed legislation. But as we celebrate this important landmark, it would be a grave mistake to declare that the struggle for inclusion is over as a great deal of work remains.
As I’ve written here before, disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty, and twenty-five years after the signing of the ADA, the two still go hand in hand. The poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities remains more than double that for people without disabilities.
People with disabilities are also significantly more likely to experience material hardships—things like food insecurity; not being able to pay rent, mortgage, or utilities; or inability to access needed medical care—than people without disabilities, even at the same income levels. The same is true for families caring for a child with a disability.
People with disabilities are also nearly twice as likely to lack even modest savings to help them weather job loss, an unexpected bill, or other financial shock, according to the National Disability Institute.
As we look ahead to the next 25 years of breaking down barriers, it’s time to examine our own work as advocates for change. The next wall that needs to come down is the one that keeps disability advocacy in its own bucket, separate and apart from the broader fight for a fair economy and equal opportunity. Until disability inclusion—both social and economic—is a core part of the economic justice movement, we’ll continue to miss a huge piece of the puzzle.
Much of the economic agenda to break the link between disability and poverty is already mainstream. Raising the minimum wage. Boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without dependent children. Expanding Medicaid. Paid leave and paid sick days. Strengthening Social Security (including updating the woefully outdated Supplemental Security Income asset limits). Add in affordable, accessible housing; accessible transportation; and ensuring access to long-term services and supports and we’ve got a to-do list that would go a long way toward reducing poverty and expanding opportunity for people with disabilities.
As President George H.W. Bush’s signed the ADA into law, he closed his remarks with this: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” Let’s take that to heart not only as we fight for inclusionary social and economic policies, but as we shape our work and tactics as change-makers.
It is in that spirit that throughout next week, TalkPoverty.org will feature posts from disability leaders, all exploring the link between disability and poverty and solutions that would increase economic opportunity for people with disabilities. This week is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the topic. But we hope it will help advance this important conversation, and we look forward to working with our readers, contributors, and partners to break down the silos that have kept disability separate from the broader fight for economic justice for far too long.