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Ensuring the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the U.S.

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-02-22 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-05) - Ensuring disability rights are enforced is vital to the participation of every person who experiences disabilities in America - Wendy Taormina-Weiss (Disabled World).
Disability Rights

The disability rights movement is defined as 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: "Many people with disabilities in America feel intimidated and hesitant to file complaints in regards to violations of our rights."

The only way to ensure that persons with disabilities have the ability to fully enjoy their human rights is to guarantee their rights under national law, supporting that legislation through consistent, coordinated, and continued actions across all governmental departments, and ensuring that every legal institution enforces respect for their rights.

The United States of America has indeed signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; America does have the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet as the President has stated, "There is more we can do."

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.

Disability Rights Resources:

Americans with Disabilities Act
www.ada.gov/

Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act
www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-ada.html

My Child's Special Needs
www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/edpicks.jhtmlsrc=ln

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - People with Disabilities
www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/pwd.cfm

Better access to transportation services for people with disabilities a key part of DOT proposals
fastlane.dot.gov/2011/04/better-access-to-transportation-services-for-people-with-disabilities-a-key-part-of-dot-proposals.html

The Social Security Administration - Apply Online for Benefits
www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/

Making Facilities & Programs Accessible for Persons with Disabilities
www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/understanding/disability/physical/index.html

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - Disability Discrimination
www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

Related Information:

  1. Students with Disabilities - Rights and Responsibilities - Rights and responsibilities of students with disabilities who are preparing to attend postsecondary schools.
  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. Uniting Disability Rights Advocates with Bioethicists to Improve Quality of Life for People with Disabilities - Alicia Ouellettes latest book Bioethics and Disability Toward a Disability Conscious Bioethics takes on the tension between disability rights scholars and bioethicists.


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