Thursday, July 29, 2010

Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary

All this week I have been seeing and hearing that July 26, Monday was the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA by President Bush, senior. I had not realized that it was that long ago.

I have not seen much in the way of results from this act, actually. I know, from reading on the web, that my old dormitory in Graduate School, International House at the University of Chicago has finally been retrofitted for wheelchair access. Decades after I lived there. Still it is good to see.

Ramps still seem to be constructed at too high a pitch for many people with manual wheelchairs to use independently. I have often thought that the people who use them ought to be consulted, rather than merely putting able-bodied architects to work on them.

Physical access isn't really the primary issue, though, in my opinion. Financial access is the primary issue. In a world in which able-bodied people work at home from their computers, this functionality should be available to the disabled as well.

Micro-entrepreneurship should be encouraged as well. The Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration and even the Social Security Administration all comment on their web-sites that disabled people have a higher success rate than non-disabled people in starting our own businesses and making them succeed.

Barriers exist here, however, and I think that it is important to bring them down. The greatest barrier is the paternalism of the culture of disability benefits that has been set by the Social Security Administration itself. For years I have called this the "institutionalized poverty of disability benefits."

The amount that people can earn while still receiving benefits needs to be set higher. The discrimination against the "non-blind" disabled (SSA's designation) in favor of the "blind" disabled needs to be set right. Specifically the earning formula for the "non-blind" needs to be raised to that of the "blind" category. Or, better yet, people need to be allowed to work half-time at whatever is customary and usual for their field in their area (or half the median income in their area, if they are self-employed.) If this were done, there would be a greater incentive for many people to earn. The reason that it is so important to maintain the benefits is that if the cash benefit goes away so does medical care and that is so necessary that many people trade trying to get out of poverty for not living in fear of no medical care.

Greater earning power on the part of the disabled would decrease the need for ancillary services such as In-Home Support services that are constantly endangered by budget cuts. Greater earning power on the part of the disabled would increase the tax revenue bases from the federal down to the local level.

Another barrier for micro-entrepreneurs is the lack of capital and the lack of marketing and networking skills. I think that local communities could do a great deal to help by setting up grant programs and mentoring and networking help. Local Chambers of Commerce could do a great deal here by establishing memberships at no cost for the first year or two for small businesses owned by disabled entrepreneurs who can show that they are at a cash disadvantage. Community service organizations could join in as well, providing, along with the Chambers, mentoring and networking help.

Individuals, neighbors and friends, church members could help too by patronizing such small businesses and thereby giving the best encouragement that there is--increase in cash-flow.

Poverty does not exist only in the Third World; it is here in our local communities. Many of the poorest members of our communities are disabled--disabled by poverty as well as by the physical bodies which do not function as well as others do. Lets change this and make the disabled fully economically empowered as the ADA originally intended.

Look for and support the businesses of your disabled friends and neighbors. Please. Thank you.

I am grateful for being able to make this message available and I hope that it helps others as well as myself.

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