On Housing and Employment Concerning People with Disabilities

By,

Renee Wood

Housing and employment are two of the primary issues that the disability community is dealing with on a large scale. Housing and jobs costs the US billions of dollars in unnecessary Medicaid payments to institutions because we refuse to build housing which is accessible and affordable to all.  Government subsidized employment discrimination (via SSI) of people with disabilities who are capable and willing to work is also a huge drain on tax payers.

Keeping people with disabilities in their own homes with appropriate supports is not only more cost effective, it is also more humane and preferred by most people with disabilities.  So what is running this system that prevents a more cost effective, preferred by most people and a humane way of caring for individuals with disabilities including the elderly?  Big business greed is the driving force of this misuse of tax payer funds.  Mainly the nursing home lobbyists who seek to keep the nursing home’s CEOs pockets full by sacrificing the freedom of many people with disabilities as collateral damage. This notion that people with disabilities can only be properly cared for in nursing homes and other institutions is maintained by society’s ignorance, compounded by the nursing home industry’s instilling fear of elderly parents being unwillingly neglected if tax payers fail to continue to increase its’ funding to nursing homes.

Although we have waivers that can keep people with disabilities in their own homes, often times individuals can’t find accessible housing. The fact is, even though it’s cost effective to build new housing with universal design features which could later be easy to convert into a fully accessible house, as well as not costly, one main reason builders don’t want to incorporate these features, is that the construction/building industry makes more money by converting a totally inaccessible house into an accessible house, rather than an universal design house into an accessible house.

A second major issue facing people with disabilities as you may know, is their high unemployment rate.  Unemployment among people with disabilities is significantly higher than any other minority group in the US. Unemployment for the disabled hovers at 69 – 70% no matter what the trends are in greater society. In other words, if society’s unemployment is up 4%, unemployment among people with disabilities doesn’t rise to 74%. The reverse is true too.

In my opinion, there are several programs that work towards the detriment of employing or being employed with a disability.  The primary one is SSI was intended to assist those who truly had no ability to work in competitive employment to meet bare minimum level of survival, which it does. The one thing that was overlooked in the creation of this program was society’s unwillingness to hire competent people with disabilities, so we created a program that softened society’s conscience in not hiring a person with a disability, knowing that there’s a program that will “take care of them”.  This is what I mean by Government subsidized employment discrimination, even though I see no ill intent on the Government’s part – it’s just the way it shook out in greater society.

Conversely, the person with a disability is in a moral dilemma because to receive SSI you not only have to have a significant disability, you also have to declare that you are unable to work. People who are born with a disability can receive SSI at 18 and are expected by family and society to apply for SSI. At the same time they are engaged in seeking employment. The disabled person themselves doesn’t think their unemployable, but they face massive discrimination, so in order to get money (SSI) to eat and survive, they have to say that they are unemployable. This is humiliating for a young person to declare this when they have dreams and aspirations of a career like everyone else.

Our society equates disability to unemployment and being employed to non-disabled. Example; two people with similar disabilities living in the same county, who both own homes. In the county it said to qualify for the Homestead exemption for real estate taxes you have to have a permanent disability. One person got the exemption the other didn’t because one was employed and they said if you’re employed you’re not considered permanently disabled. Therefore disability is determined by employability rather than a clinical determination of some malfunction of the body that forces the person to adapt to their environment in unconventional ways, or not adapt.

Also I know people who have life-long significant disabilities who are in their early 50’s who have worked 20 to 30 years in competitive employment. It is a known fact that people with life-long disabilities metabolically age faster than non-disabled and can have shorter life-spans. These individuals who have worked with quadriplegia, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, etc, are feeling the effects of aging-fast and working still, believe they have to work til they die because the system no longer recognizes their disability. They say that they are too young to allow them to retire, and since they worked most of their adult life in their present condition, the company/organization won’t let them take disability. These individuals say they would have to blow a rotator cuff or acquire another disability before their employer would recognize them as “disabled”. So disabled people are not compensated for beating the odds and becoming gainfully employed with the recognition that they deserve to enjoy some retirement years, which means there bodies may require an early retirement. Again, expected to deny their disabilities and fit into a mode of retirement age created for non-disabled employees.

To summarized these thoughts, although disability is common and experienced in one way or another by all, it’s existence is still unwelcome and seen as undesirable to many. As a result the reality of this very common occurrence is not taken into consideration when planning for society, it’s always a sidebar in planning society and therefore costs tons more money than if it was incorporated into the mainstream.

Just some of my thoughts!

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