In our lives, the U.S. economy plays a vital role! Right now, things are tough for almost everyone when it comes to money and finances. The percentage of people who are currently without jobs is rising virtually every day. Up until June of last year, the Current Population Survey taken each month to identify employment percentages did not include questions for people with disabilities. As of January 2009, a new monthly data series on the employment status of people with a disability is available. Now that this demographic is being researched, the findings, though maybe not a surprise to many, is proof of the staggering number of unemployed Americans with disabilities! One statistical example of this is in the percentage of employed people. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), in January of this year, 65% of Americans without a disability were employed, compared with only 20% of employed disabled Americans.
What are some reasons for the high percentage of unemployed Americans with disabilities? I think, from my perspective at least, the number 1 issue I face is transportation. While Austin has a system in place for travelers with disabilities, it is by no means an easy or convenient service. It can be very difficult to get anywhere at an exact time, because the system is a shared ride program and they have to accommodate several people’s schedules at once. To get to my job by 8:00 for example, I may need to prepare to leave my house 2 hours early and then I could get to the office earlier than I need to, but I wouldn’t be late. They really try to accommodate medical appointments, but not jobs. I may be able to take the bus, or in my case busses, but I’m still looking at a 2 or more hour commute to go less than 10 miles. Factor in trying to juggle family life and children, I feel out of control when it comes to getting somewhere in a timely manner. A prospective employer needs you to be on time to work, or it affects that company’s productivity. On a side note, the web page for the metro access or special transit services is outdated and many of the services discussed are no longer available.
Another reason for the high unemployment rate of people with a disability is the company’s ability and willingness to make reasonable accommodations. This may mean purchasing special equipment or computer software, making their offices physically accessible to wheelchairs, etc. Many businesses do not want to go through such lengths and therefore will not hire people with disabilities. Of course they won’t state this reason for not hiring, because they would have lawsuits on their hands!
Last on the top few reasons in my opinion has to do with money. The Government gives some people with disabilities benefits in varying amounts, and many times, taking a certain job may mean less money. Overall, many people with disabilities get paid less than their non-disabled counterparts, and their paychecks may amount to less than their disability checks. What would you do? Collect more money for doing nothing, or work hard and earn less?
I do not want to leave the impression that all businesses treat disabled Americans this way. There are countless employers out there who are willing and able to hire and accommodate people with a disability! The trouble is, the majority of companies have no idea how to handle these situations and do not have the money or staff to dedicate to learning. Education must be the starting point. Our new President has many goals concerning access for Americans with disabilities! God willing President Obama will be able to achieve these goals and give disabled Americans the chances in life we so richly deserve!!