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Rights of Persons with Disabilities in America

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-02-27 (Revised/Updated 2017-02-23) - The basic rights of every person despite their disability status are presented through various different treaties - Wendy Taormina-Weiss (Disabled World).
Disability Rights

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.

Main Document

Quote: "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."

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 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 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • The Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (CEDPWD)

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 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:

  • Education
  • Workplaces
  • Public program
  • Private housing
  • Access to polling places

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:

  • Insults
  • Isolation
  • Shunning
  • Daily mockery
  • Physical abuse
  • Disenfranchisement

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.

Resources and References:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm

The Discover Human Rights Institute - www.discoverhumanrights.org

Related Information:

  1. Ensuring the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Ensuring persons with disabilities have the ability to fully enjoy their human rights is to guarantee their rights under national law and supporting that legislation across all governmental departments.
  2. Disability Rights Struggles - Success and Current Challenges - As People with Disabilities we are very capable of working towards achieving rights and creating organizations.
  3. The Fading of Disability Civil and Human Rights In America - The rights of People with Disabilities, Americas largest minority population are fading at an unprecedented rate.


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