More than any other demographic group, disabled Americans are likely to be poor. Their average annual income is about $6,000 less than those without disabilities. These facts were revealed in a study released by the office of Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat-Iowa) just prior to his recent retirement from the Senate. The report "Fulfilling the Promise: Overcoming Persistent Barriers to Economic Self-Sufficiency for People with Disabilities," says that of the 20 million adults with disabilities who are of working age, 80 percent want to work, but fewer than one-third are actually employed. By comparison, 77 percent of people without disabilities are in the work force.
Americans With Disabilitys Are Twice As Likely to Live in Poverty
Nearing its 25th anniversary, the Americans with Disabilities Act (authored by Harkin) has changed many aspects of American life from handrails, wheelchair ramps, curb cuts and more, but people with disabilities still face significant barriers to employment. As a result, among adults 21-64 years old, those with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live below the poverty level as the general U.S. adult population (28% versus 12%). Tragically, additional expenses caused by a disability can also pile up.
Harkin called these numbers "deeply disturbing" and he said we must do more. “While great advancements have been made, Americans with disabilities still face significant hardships,” he said. “Particularly with respect to employment and poverty, much work remains to be done in order for Americans with disabilities to achieve full equality in American society.”
In compiling the report, Senator Harkin’s staff interviewed 400 disabled persons. "Almost all reported experiencing employment discrimination, persistently low expectations, inaccessible workplaces, and discriminatory pay," the report says.
Harkin said solutions include "addressing the cultural biases and prejudices that remain about the ability of people with disabilities to do meaningful work," making government programs easier to navigate, making housing and transportation more accessible and "ensuring access to high quality education coupled with high expectations."