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Rights of Persons with Disabilities in America

The United States and Fulfillment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Published: 2012/02/27 - Updated: 2023/04/21
Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Contact Details
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Synopsis: The basic rights of every person despite their disability status are presented through various different treaties. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees equal protection to every citizen, despite characteristics they may have such as disability, race, or gender. The United States Congress also enacted specific statutory protections for persons who experience forms of disabilities, most notably through the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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What Are Disability Rights?

The rights persons with disabilities have include; equality before the law, freedom of speech, respect for privacy, the right to both marriage and family, the right to education, the right to health, and much more.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines persons with disabilities as, "Those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others." The United Nations states, "Everyone is likely to experience disability at some point during his/her lifetime because of illness, accident, or aging."

In the United States of America, awareness of this fact is becoming more prominent. The disability rights movement is the movement to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for people with disabilities. The specific goals and demands of the movement are: accessibility and safety in transportation, architecture, and the physical environment, equal opportunities in independent living, employment, education, and housing, and freedom from abuse, neglect, and violations of patients rights.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The basic rights of every person, despite disability status, are presented through some different treaties. These treaties include the following:

The rights persons with disabilities have to include equality before the law, freedom of speech, respect for privacy, the right to both marriage and family, the right to education, the right to health, and much more. The year 2006 found the United Nations drafting the CRPD in recognition of the difficult and overlapping barriers persons with disabilities face. The CRPD is the first treaty that comprehensively addresses every aspect of discrimination related to disability, to include areas such as education, employment, self-determination, and privacy. The United States of America signed the CRPD in the year 2009, although it has not yet ratified the Convention.

The United States and Recognition of Disability Rights

The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees equal protection to every citizen, despite characteristics they may have such as disability, race, or gender. The United States Congress also enacted specific statutory protections for persons who experience forms of disabilities, most notably through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Laws in America prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in any:

Laws in America require employers, schools, landlords, as well as governments to make services accessible to persons with disabilities through the provision of reasonable accommodations or modifications. A number of the states in America have drafted their own laws addressing the rights of persons with disabilities. In combination with the laws America has, it is also legally bound to International treaties such as the UDHR or the ICCPR.

The United States and Fulfillment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Millions of Americans with Disabilities are deprived of their rights, despite legal protections related to us, due to a lack of awareness and failure to provide us with reasonable accommodations in a number of areas. Persons with disabilities in this nation continue to face considerable levels of discrimination related to employment, services, education, and additional areas. Greater than 54 Million Persons with Disabilities live in America today; a number that continues to grow as the overall population ages.

The Safety and Security of Persons with Disabilities

Persons with Disabilities as a minority population in America experience an increased risk of becoming victims of violent crime. Women with disabilities specifically experience a high rate of sexual assault and domestic violence. For example; studies have suggested that women who experience forms of developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to experience a sexual assault than other women in America. Children with disabilities also experience a high risk of abuse. Young people with disabilities are 1.5 to 3.5 times more likely to experience neglect and abuse and find themselves surrendered to the child welfare system.

When situations such as natural disasters occur, persons with disabilities are frequently denied our right to protection. A study on emergency management found a majority of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emergency managers did not have the training to work with special needs populations, to include persons who experience forms of mobility impairments. The lack of consideration on the part of FEMA in relation to persons with disabilities proved to be disastrous during both Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

Estimates demonstrate that around 73% of the fatalities related to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were persons over the age of 60, despite the fact that this population comprised a mere 15% of the overall population involved. Experts have suggested this occurred because many of the persons who died experienced medical, physical, or sensory limitations which made them move vulnerable.

Persons with Disabilities, Equal Protection, and Due Process

Social Service organizations in America are many times unprepared to address the needs of persons with disabilities. For example; shelters for battered women commonly lack staff members who have the training needed to work with the unique needs of women with disabilities. Police officers and other law-enforcement officials only receive minimal amounts of training related to accommodations related to us.

When investigators interview people with developmental disabilities who have experienced a crime against them, they repeatedly fail to pursue vital information concerning the incident itself and the perpetrator. The investigators may only make assessments that are inappropriate in regards to the credibility of the victims instead. A 2001 survey by the Boston Globe found that a mere 5% of serious crimes against persons with disabilities were prosecuted, compared to 70% for similar crimes against persons who experienced no form of disability.

Persons with Disabilities and Accessibility

Accessibility is the primary component in the fight against discrimination involving persons with disabilities. The Department of Transportation states that only 55-60% of public buses have wheelchair lifts. Even the buses that do have wheelchair lifts find persons with disabilities being denied access due to lifts that are not working properly, or bus drivers who do not have the training to operate them.

Persons with disabilities in America are also commonly denied requests they make for reasonable accommodations or modifications they need related to housing in order to make the housing accessible for them. Almost 20% of housing providers with on-site parking have refused to make the reasonable accommodation of providing a designated, accessible parking space for a person who uses a wheelchair, for example. In the year 2008, 44% of the 10, 552 housing discrimination cases filed (a new record), were complaints involving persons with disabilities. A number of persons with disabilities also face barriers at polling places due to the inaccessibility of the polling place, or voting machines that are incompatible.

Persons with Disabilities and Non-Discrimination

Persons with Disabilities in America face systemic and direct forms of discrimination. Disability harassment can take a number of forms such as:

Teachers and Principals in the schools of America have been involved in instances of encouraging harassment or intentionally instituting policies with the intention of punishing students simply for experiencing a form of disability. The United States government has started prosecuting cases of disability harassment in schools and workplaces, yet many courts in America continue to refuse consideration of disability harassment as a serious crime that is comparable to racism or sexism - something that leaves those who experience disability harassment without equal protections under the law.

Persons with Disabilities and Housing

Housing discrimination related to persons with disabilities in America is rampant. There is precious little in the way of housing that is accessible, affordable, or designed with persons with disabilities in mind. One study found that greater than half of all persons with disabilities in America faced housing inquiry discrimination compared to non-disabled persons seeking similar housing. Persons with disabilities receive less encouragement to pursue rental agreements and are less likely to be offered an application than non-disabled renters.

Some of the states in America try to force persons with disabilities into institutions instead of providing nursing assistants or personal care providers. Providing this type of assistance to persons with disabilities in their own communities is vital. It allows us to live independent and full lives; it is also many times less expensive than putting people who should be living independently into institutions.

Persons with Disabilities and Health

A disproportionate number of persons with disabilities in America face barriers to receiving quality health care, despite Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. A number of health care facilities do not provide assistive technologies. Persons with disabilities many times find ourselves fighting with insurance companies to get the treatments and accommodations we need.

A study performed in the state of California found that 22% of persons with disabilities experienced difficulties with accessing health care facilities. The study also found that 12.9% of persons with disabilities reported unfair treatment by their health care providers due to the disability they experience. A wide-reaching study of disability health care coverage found that persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities were 3 times more likely than persons without to report unmet health care needs.

Persons with Disabilities and Education

The educational outcomes for children with disabilities have improved somewhat due to revisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Children with disabilities; however, are more likely to experience types of corporal punishments in America's schools. Out of the 223,190 public school students in America who were beaten with a paddle in the 2006-2007 school year, at least 41,972 of them or 19% were students who experienced a form of disability.

Students with disabilities are also less likely to graduate from high school. A scant 12.5% of persons with disabilities in America have a Bachelors degree, compared to the national average of 30.3%. A number of the colleges in this nation still do not have adequate support services, or even awareness of disability issues, and remain inconsistent in their interpretations of their requirements in regards to the accommodation of persons with disabilities. Many students with disabilities are forced to pay for the extra costs of their accommodations and may need additional time in order to graduate - something that increases their overall final costs related to education.

Persons with Disabilities and Employment

The year 2006 found persons with disabilities in America experiencing an employment rate that was at least 40 percentage points lower than the rate of working age persons without disabilities. Persons with Disabilities as this nation's largest minority population have always experienced the highest rates of unemployment; always. A whopping 70% of persons with disabilities in America who are unemployed cite discrimination in the workplace and a lack of adequate transportation as major factors preventing them from working.

Additional studies have demonstrated that persons with disabilities in America who do find jobs earn less than their co-workers without disabilities. Workers with disabilities are less likely to receive promotions as well. All of these things negatively affect our economic and living conditions. Persons who experience forms of mental health disabilities also experience particularly high rates of unemployment, as well as facing higher levels of employment discrimination than other persons with disabilities.

United States Government Obligations in Regards to Persons with Disabilities

The government of the United States of America, in order to ensure the rights of Persons with Disabilities, has a number of different obligations. The foremost obligation in this writer's mind is the obligation to Protect the Most Vulnerable - which means the U.S. government must actively reach out to those citizens with disabilities who are most marginalized and excluded from the communities of America and face the greatest barriers in the realization of their rights.

The United States government is obliged to ensure Nondiscrimination - meaning it must work to prevent discriminatory outcomes due to ability, race, gender, language, or additional factors with the goal of ensuring equity in the fulfillment of the rights of everyone in America. Our government is obliged to Protect us as persons with disabilities - meaning the U.S. government must take measures to prevent individuals or third parties such as employers or civil society organizations from interfering in any way from the realization of our rights.

The United States government is obliged to Respect us as persons with disabilities - which means our government must not deprive us of our rights under both domestic and International laws. Our government must refrain from taking retrogressive measures which are incompatible with our rights. The U.S. government is obliged to Fulfill our rights - meaning it must adopt necessary measures and create an enabling environment such that all persons with disabilities may enjoy our full rights.

The government of the United States of America is obliged to Meet Minimum Standards - meaning it must ensure the satisfaction of the minimal, yet essential, standard laid out in the UDHR and immediately address situations involving extreme abuse. Our government is also obliged to Monitor and Report - which means our government must monitor and report on its fulfillment of our rights as persons with disabilities, and ensure its accountability for its actions and inactions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The main page of the website for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), presented by the United States government, is filled with efforts being made to ensure that people with disabilities in this nation enjoy the rights granted to us under this monumental Act. There are greater than 54 Million People with Disabilities in the United States of America, making us this nation's largest minority population. Ensuring that our rights are enforced is vital to the participation of every person who experiences a form of disability in America, despite their other form of social identification.

The passage of the ADA marked an incredible milestone in Disability History and the rights of persons with disabilities in America. There is; however, more that can be done - even in relation to the ADA. Much of the wording in the ADA includes terms such as, 'unless it presents an undue hardship,' and other terms that provide everyone from employers to businesses with a means of evading the very rights meant to be guaranteed under the ADA.

The Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been and continues to be very diligent where pursuit of violations of the ADA is concerned. The sheer numbers of violations of the rights of persons with disabilities in America; however, is plainly overwhelming the DOJ. With every complaint and violation of the rights of a person with disabilities in America, large amounts of paperwork are involved. Government personnel are also involved, leading to even more paperwork.

Many people with disabilities in America feel intimidated and hesitant to file complaints in regards to violations of our rights. One of the reasons for these feelings is due to the very processes involved with filing a complaint. Even more than two decades after the passage of this crucial civil rights Act, many Americans remain ignorant of the ways this legislation applies to People with Disabilities in America. This writer has personally encountered a number of people, some in positions of trust, who were actually unaware of what the ADA is.

The Department of Education

The Department of Education is doing what it can to include children with disabilities in education. While the efforts this department is pursuing have been and continue to be questioned by some parents, the fact remains that efforts are being made. Prominent issues remain however; ones that must be dealt with.

One of these issues involves bullying by non-disabled students. Children with disabilities, like children who are gay, lesbian, or transgendered, continue to experience bullying by students who perceive them to be the subjects of ridicule. The term, 'bullying,' is misleading because an act of bullying amounts to assault.

Another issue that must be dealt with in relation to children with disabilities and education involves abuse perpetrated by teachers themselves. Children with disabilities have been locked in closets, restrained to the point of bruising and worse, and ridiculed in front of their fellow classmates by teachers with little or no skills in working with students who experience forms of disabilities. Teachers who commit these acts of shaming or abuse often times simply walk away from their offenses.

Yet another issue that must be dealt with involving children with disabilities and education is the continued isolation of students who experience forms of disabilities from non-disabled classmates. Education for everyone means everyone - including children with disabilities. Isolating students who experience forms of disabilities is clearly not inclusive.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development

Housing is an interesting issue for People with Disabilities in America. Where housing is concerned, anything before a certain date is considered, 'uncovered,' by the ADA. What this means is that if a building is older than, 'X,' date - it is not required to meet ADA accessibility laws.

Due to this fact, a great many People with Disabilities in America find themselves living in housing that is not accessible to them or their needs. As a population, many of us live on fixed incomes, meaning we do not have the financial ability to rent, lease, or purchase newer housing. This writer is personally aware of this fact - over a period covering decades of time.

Section 8 Housing vouchers are cherished because they are hard fought for; there simply aren't enough of them. Apartment complexes where these vouchers can be applied are often in areas that are not well, 'the greatest,' and many times have limited numbers of accessible units. Finding a house that not only is accessible, but accepts a Section 8 voucher is akin to a miracle in America.

The Department of Transportation

"For the 2012 proposal and our upcoming reauthorization, we really wanted to think about how we can help make all modes of transportation accessible," said Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. Polly's statement is very noble, as well as a presentation of the exact demeanor People with Disabilities desire to hear from the Department of Transportation. As a population, we have experienced tired, ongoing issues with transportation in America.

Transit systems in America are so incredibly biased towards able-bodied persons they may as well have signs on them reading, "Non-disabled Only." Amtrak trains, for example, often times have one accessible car out of the entire train; one. Bus systems in America have been cutting entire bus routes, to include buses and paratransit routes that are accessible to people with disabilities, because of financial hardships on the parts of cities.

People with Disabilities who rely on these modes of transportation in order to get to everywhere from work to appointments or even to get out of their homes for a while find themselves further isolated from society due to a lack of adequate transportation services. Attempts to fly on an airline find us being picked out of lines in disproportionate numbers for TSA Agent molestation because of things such as knee braces, hip replacements, or other medical devices. The Department of Transportation has a great amount of work to do in relation to ensuring our human rights as citizens of the United States of America; a great amount of work.

The Social Security Administration

Anyone at all in America can experience a form of disability, and the fact is that most Americans will experience a disability or serious illness during their lifetime. In this nation, people can apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA), a very needed and reassuring safety net for all Americans. Some issues involving the SSA and human rights remain; however.

Imagine that you find yourself experiencing a new form of disability that leaves you unable to work for a living. You decide to apply for Social Security Disability benefits - guess what? You will find yourself interacting not only with the SSA, but with a lawyer, a court, and spending a great amount of time waiting for a decision. It is most important to note that you will most likely be denied.

While select forms of disabilities people may experience are now sped through this process, vast numbers of People with Disabilities find themselves struggling to survive for years, only to be denied disability benefits by the SSA and having to pursue an appeals process. Through the appeals process, a person with disabilities may be denied again, or they may be approved. In the meantime, the person has to figure out how they are going to survive as they deal with this process presented by the SSA.

In the end, if a person with disabilities is approved by the SSA for disability benefits, they will find themselves living on a poverty income. The reason this income is so low is because the SSA is attempting to ensure no one is, 'ripping-off,' the taxpayers of America. In other words, even after approval by the SSA for disability benefits - a person with disabilities will still find themselves struggling to survive on a poverty income.

The Department of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services is making incredible strides in relation to People with Disabilities. Take the HHS's perspectives on the Olmstead Act, or the pursuit of National Health care, for example. While the Community Care Act has not been passed, the HHS has been pursuing community living in relation to the Olmstead Act, something that is perhaps as worthy. As the HHS site states, "HHS Secretary Sebelius will be working with Secretary Donovan of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to identify ways to improve access to housing, community supports and independent living arrangements."

Issues do remain; however. A visit to Dr. Jane can be trying for a person with disabilities. At the front desk, which is many times above the heads of a person who uses a wheelchair, a person with disabilities may find themselves facing a receptionist who tells them, 'Sorry, we are not accepting new Medicare or Medicaid patients.' Trying to find a doctor or specialist who accepts the two most common forms of insurance used by People with Disabilities can be difficult.

Upon finding a doctor or specialist who accepts Medicare or Medicaid, a person with disabilities can find themselves facing an office environment that is not accessible, as well as an examination room that isn't. The need for a sign language interpreter can find a person with disabilities needing to postpone or reschedule an appointment, or find a doctor refusing to see them at all.

Many primary care physicians in America remain ignorant of various forms of disabilities. Awareness of the rights of People with Disabilities in relation to health care is another thing many health care providers lack. In short - America has a ways to go where health care and People with Disabilities are concerned.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

A growing number of employers in America are waking up to the fact that employees with disabilities are among the most diligent, trustworthy, and dedicated employees they can ever hire. To these employers a huge, 'Thank You,' is in order. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has helped many employers in America with understanding the ADA and how it applies to their businesses and People with Disabilities.

Some employers in America; however, remain ignorant of the rights of People with Disabilities in relation to employment. Other employers choose to pursue perspectives of bias and even bigotry, refusing to hire People with Disabilities, or choosing to treat us badly if they do hire us. Where these employers are concerned, the EEOC pursues them first from a perspective of mediation, and should this fail - through a legal perspective and the ADA.

For People with Disabilities, issues with employment have always been troubling in America; always. We have always experienced the highest rate of unemployment in this nation. We have always faced employers who look at our resume's and choose to hire the young, able-bodied kid instead. We have always faced employers who find sneaky ways to weasel around the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC, and dump on our rights in the area of employment. The fact is - the EEOC can only pursue so many cases of discrimination; it is limited.

What Does All of This Mean?

The government departments covered in this article are far from the only ones that affect People with Disabilities in America. The United States government, no matter how much it grows, or how many people it hires, will still be limited in its abilities to support the rights of People with Disabilities in this nation. Ensuring the rights of People with Disabilities in America is going to require further efforts - ones involving the people of this nation and more.

The very first thing the United States government needs to do is to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocols, enacting these vital items pertaining to us and our rights. Doing so not only outlines our rights in clear terms, it supports the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Legislation empowering People with Disabilities in America is also desperately needed. We need the power to work on an ad hoc basis with government departments with the intention of improving the departments that support services related to us and our rights. While many people with disabilities find themselves unable to work on a full-time basis, a great many of us are able to contribute incredibly meaningful, productive things on an ad hoc basis as our health allows; we simply need the legal ability to do so. The technology exists for us to contribute; we simply need the opportunity.

Vast awareness campaigns concerning the ADA and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) are needed in America. The citizens of this nation - whether they experience a form of disability or not, need to be aware of the rights and abilities of citizens with disabilities. Awareness of these issues can no longer remain on the sidelines - People with Disabilities comprise America's largest minority population.

Fundamental Rights Of Persons With Disability Statistics and Charts - Assessment and charts show statistics of world countries efforts to address the rights of persons with disabilities - UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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