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A Response to Tom Harkin in Regards to Disability Employment

Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss

Published: 2012-07-18

Synopsis and Key Points:

Senator Tom Harkin posted an article through a major news site on the Internet concerning People with Disabilities and employment in America.

Main Digest

Recently, Senator Tom Harkin posted an article through a major news site on the Internet concerning People with Disabilities and employment in America. The article was captivating in that it presented not only statistics, but some reason for optimism. Employment has always been a major issue for us and Mr. Harkin has been an endless advocate for People with Disabilities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the disability workforce actually decreased by more than 10 percent during the recession. The number reflects a rate that is 5 times faster than the one for people without a form of disability, who experienced a decrease in employment during the recession of around 2 percent. More data from earlier in this month show that as the workforce has started to recover the workforce comprised of people with disabilities has lagged.

The numbers of people who do not experience a form of disability and are of working age who are in the workforce has grown by nearly 3 million over the last year. During the same year, the number of people with disabilities who were working dropped by 94,000. While employment of People with Disabilities was at a peak before the recession, a mere 37% of working age adults with disabilities were participating in the workforce.

While these statistics appear rather dismal, there are some different factors to take into consideration. Social forces are very interesting in that time is a crucial factor, as well as growth in awareness of the issues facing the society involved. As societies change and grow over time, the people within the social structure change as well. Tom Harkin is aware of these factors and stated:

"We have a new generation of young people with disabilities entering the labor force. Unlike many in earlier generations, they grew up in integrated classrooms and accessible communities, expect to work in mainstream jobs and are unwilling to accept living in poverty with meager supports from the government. Add to this group the wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a powerful desire to work and support their families..."

Mr. Harkin has pointed out a very crucial social factor - the ongoing influx of younger workers with disabilities who will not accept an unavailability of employment in America. The communities these younger people with disabilities have grown up in are more accessible than the ones America had in the past, despite ongoing issues with accessibility, bullying, improper restraint in classrooms and more. The continuing rules related to the Social Security Administration, as well as work in relation to earnings income limitations and People with Disabilities, astound many of us. Younger workers with disabilities simply will not accept such limitations.

Wounded military personnel who have and continue to come home from war will not accept the limitations placed upon them by the Social Security Administration either. Many veterans find themselves relying upon a dual VA/SSDI income to survive after receiving meager VA disability ratings. A demeanor among employers of, 'we would rather hire workers without disabilities,' simply will not fly with veterans who have families to support, or workers with disabilities for that matter.

Tom Harkin also stated, "Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on the private sector to increase the disability labor force by over 1 million workers by 2015. The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a proposed rule calling on federal contractors to work toward the goal that at least seven percent of their workforce, at all levels, are people with disabilities. Companies including Walgreens, Lowe's and Best Buy did not wait for the Department of Labor's initiative."

Mr. Harkin has publicly presented three major corporations that have been supporting workers with disabilities and veterans for some time now. These corporations have done so of their own initiative, and have found the results of doing so to be highly rewarding. From a purely monetary perspective, it would behoove the rest of corporate America to follow the example being set by Walgreens, Lowe's, and Best Buy - after all, People with Disabilities and Veterans are consumers as well.

One of the corporations that Mr. Harkin did not mention is Home Depot. While shopping at Home Depot for supplies to renovate the home I am living in, the numbers of veterans and workers who experience forms of disabilities I encountered was important to note. At the entrance to the Home Depot store there is a sign presenting the Veterans who work there.

The younger People with Disabilities and Veterans who have and are returning from war with forms of disabilities are leading the way towards a better future for all Americans in the area of employment. Equality in the area of employment is vital to the inclusion of all people in this nation. Tom Harkin is aware of the fact that it is not only the citizens of America who have a growing recognition of this fact. He stated:

"I am sensing a growing recognition in Washington that we should not force people with disabilities to prove they cannot work in order to be eligible for supports from the government. The 1956 definition of disability in the Social Security Act, and the entitlement programs that have grown up around that definition, need to be modernized so they are in alignment with the ADA's goals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency."

For 22 years, America has looked to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for definitions of how People with Disabilities should receive equality in this nation. The ADA has presented us with incredibly valuable rights, yet even these rights are limited by their very definitions and find us dealing with statements such as, 'unless it would cause an undue burden,' where employers are concerned, or ones in relation to buildings which are newer instead of all buildings for example, leading to questions of accommodation and accessibility. The United States of America may now join the many other nations of the world that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, leading to further rights for us.

The need for outdated perspectives towards People with Disabilities to change is imperative. A 1956 definition of People with Disabilities having to prove an inability to work is gothic. In 1956, the Internet did not exist; nor did the personal computer, or the many types of office and communication softwares that accompany these types of technologies. The entire infrastructure of America has changed in the time between 1956 and 2012, for example.

The Social Security Administration is working with a definition of, 'disability,' that is so badly outdated it is the equivalent of driving a Studebaker down the Los Angeles freeway during rush hour in the midst of vehicles that are all newer than the year 2005. People with Disabilities and Veterans who experience forms of disabilities who desire to work should not have to prove an inability to work. Instead, we should find ourselves proving we have a form of disability that meets Social Security definitions, and then find ourselves with the ability to work and earn what we can, as we are able.

People with Disabilities and Veterans with forms of disabilities find ourselves dealing with the disabilities we experience - a real fact of the lives we lead. The disabilities we experience are not the whole of who we are by any means, yet there are times when we have to stop what we are doing and take care of ourselves first. What this means is that we need the support Social Security provides during the times we have to stop and take care of ourselves, yet when we are able to return to work we need the ability to do so unimpeded by 1956 gothic rules that inhibit our productivity. Tom Harkin has the wisdom to understand this fact.

Lawmakers in Washington have been moving like sloths if it has taken them this long to recognize that a 1956 definition in the Social Security Administration is so badly outdated. With the understanding that government is often times slow, it is still difficult to grasp the incredible length of time it has taken for this recognition to begin to build, making me wonder just how long it will take for the Social Security Administration to change. We are very fortunate to have Senator Tom Harkin in office.

Senator Tom Harkin

Tom knew firsthand about the challenges facing people with disabilities from his late brother, Frank, who was deaf from an early age. What emerged from that process would later become Tom's signature legislative achievement "The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Data on the Employment Status of People with Disabilities

In June 2008, questions were added to the Current Population Survey (CPS) to identify persons with a disability in the civilian non-institutional population age 16 and older. The addition of these questions allowed BLS to begin releasing monthly labor force data from the CPS for persons with a disability.

Social Security Administration - How Work Affects Your Benefits

If you are younger than full retirement age during all of 2012, we must deduct $1 from your benefits for each $2 you earned above $14,640.

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