How You Can Advocate for the Disabled When Our Government Doesn’t
America is a prosperous and productive country, but it is sorely lacking when it comes to basic empathy. Few countries on earth revel in cutthroat competition the way we do – and fewer still achieve our level of development while leaving so many behind.
These things become clear when you consider how difficult, and bordering on impossible, it can be for disabled people to get a fair share of economic and social opportunity. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a milestone, but America is far from an inclusive place. Worse: the few specific protections disabled persons enjoy under American law are being singled out for elimination right now under the Trump administration.
I wrote an article here on this topic just this past April – are we really surprised there are more attacks to disability rights under way just a few short months later? I’m not. Here’s a quick look at how the U.S. government has failed to advocate for the disabled, and how it’s presently rolling back the clock on that same mission. After that, we’ll look at how everyday people like you and me can help pick up some of the slack.
Protections for Disabled Americans Under Attack
The current U.S. administration and its Congress have set their sights on nearly every kind of protection that’s been codified in law: from clean air and water protections to laws protecting renters from bigoted landlords.
That latter rule hails from the civil rights era, which means nothing is safe and we can take nothing for granted any more. That includes, sadly, key protections for disabled Americans in the housing industry, where the LGBTQ community and every other minority under the sun has a long history of being turned away or otherwise marginalized.
Another specific group of rules currently being targeted for changes or elimination by the administration is known as “IDEA” requirements – or the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” This act requires that children with disabilities in schools be taught in the same environment as their non-disabled peers, in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) “to the maximum extent possible.”
The Trump Department of Education, according to multiple credible sources, wishes to weaken these rules and make it harder for disabled learners to remain in the classroom. They want disabled children out of sight and out of mind, and health experts don’t seem to be able to discern any reason for the move, other than apparent mean spiritedness.
Finally, Trump and Republicans are singling out women’s health care. Being a woman is not a disability, but it is – please forgive the turn of phrase – a pre-existing condition. And the U.S. government has signaled its intent to allow health care and insurance providers to deny treatment or coverage to women, especially where reproductive rights are concerned, based on an ever-longer list of religious exemptions.
Now that we know how many groups the U.S. government has failed to protect, or is now actively marginalizing and pushing further to the fringes of society, let’s take a look at what we can do to advocate for and include the disabled population more in everyday life, in the hopes that our government will one day wake up and join us.
What Companies Can Do
The business community has a special role to play in advocating for disabled inclusion and equal rights. First, because the disabled have a right to gainful employment just like the rest of us, and second, because the business community has the combined power to accomplish nearly anything it wishes.
Companies can learn about how to be more inclusive of those with disabilities during the hiring process. There are technologies available as well as more cultural touches, such as providing additional time to complete assignments for those who require reasonable accommodations of that nature.
Sadly, around 34% of disabled persons in the U.S. are unemployed and looking to change that. Most any employer can follow the guidelines – but great employers are the ones who build (literally) their companies from the ground up with 100% inclusiveness in mind.
Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides minimal guidelines for making a variety of locations accessible to the disabled. Businesses can adhere to these guidelines to make life smoother for their disabled customers. These guidelines cover everything from wheelchair ramps to spaces you might treat as an afterthought, like restrooms and closets. If you’re wondering if it’s necessary to go these extra miles for your disabled customers, it is. You will get to help others while making yourself stand out among the many others that fail so miserably.
What the Rest of Us Can Do
The next question is, what can regular people do to advocate for our disabled brothers and sisters when our governments and institutions aren’t up to the task?
The first thing is to stop electing leaders who demonstrate contempt for virtually every type of person on earth – including, specifically, the developmentally disabled. Change comes from the bottom, but good (and bad) examples often come from the top.
Believe it or not, it’s still a regular occurrence for disabled persons to be excluded even on Election Day because of widespread architectural and attitudinal barriers, according to a report from the National Council on Disability. Consider making an inquiry into your local polling places to see what steps they’ve taken to become, and stay, accessible. And consider volunteering as a poll worker during Election Day, too.
Inclusive thinking begins in our primary schools – and we have work to do there too. Parents need to help their children understand at an early age that disabilities exist, and that they don’t diminish a person. We can help our schools and teachers do a better job teaching disability history, we can promote inclusiveness in social circles at all ages, and we can open our doors even wider in colleges for athletic scholarships and other opportunities for disabled athletes and scholars.
The point is, there’s a lot we can do that needs to be done. One last thing would be to write letters, make phone calls, and generally signal your disgust that much of the progress the disabled community has made over the years in housing, in health care, in educational settings, and in mainstream society, is under attack. The good news is, those who would roll back the clock on humanism and inclusiveness are only a paltry few. The rest of us know what needs to change, and more of us every day are willing to do the work.