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Barack Obama on the International Day of Disabled Persons

"On this International Day of Disabled Persons, I stand with the roughly six hundred million people around the world, including fifty-four million Americans, who experience some form of disability. I share their vision of an inclusive and just world that is free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination. Policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to get the education they need, fulfill their potential, and live independently as full citizens in their communities. And every nation has a special responsibility to look after those who can't live on their own - because every human being deserves to live with dignity and respect.

The United States should lead the world to achieve this vision. But seventeen years after Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, leading other nations to pass similar laws, our leadership has faded. As president, I will restore America's leadership. I will make the United States a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - the first human rights treaty approved by the UN in the 21st century and a critical step toward respecting the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. And I will urge the U.S. Senate to swiftly ratify the Convention.

Next week, I will lay out a detailed agenda for reforming American society to break down the barriers that exclude Americans with disabilities. We need to build an America where those with disabilities have the same opportunities as everybody else. That is my goal, and I will accept nothing less."

My Two Cents: I'm a Republican, but i do like Barack Obama. His comments actually didn't say much, but at least he had comments.

There are huge number of people classified as disabled in America. While not all disabled people are created equal, the reality is that approximately 2% of Americans need help with one or more activities of daily living. The number he quoted was 54 million. However, the number of people with traditional physical disabilities (blindness, hearing impaired, ambulatory impairment, etc.) is closer to 9 million.

The unemployment rate among working age people with disabilities is approximately 67%. People with disabilities have the highest unemployment rate of any group. People with disabilities also have the highest underemployment rate, which represents the number of people working jobs below their level of education or working jobs below standard pay rates, in the United States.

People with disabilities don't arrive on the national agenda very often. A huge victory for us was when George Bush Sr. signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but nearly 20 years later very little has actually happened to improve the lives of people with disabilities. We are still prevented from traveling easily. We are still under and unemployed. We still face physical and attitudinal barriers. The only significant difference is that now these problems are legislated.

Here's why people with disabilities should be on Mr. Obama's agenda, as well as on the agenda of every candidate running for the Presidency.

Disabled people have the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Eighteen years after the Americans with Disability Act was passed Greyhound has yet to retrofit a single bus. It is still very difficult for a wheelchair user to travel by bus or airplane. Amtrak, a heavily federally subsidized program, is the only truly accessible mode of transportation and the number of cities service by Amtrak has shrunk dramatically since 1990.

Americans get upset when they hear about teenagers and children working in sweat shops for a dollar an hour. However, America has its own sweatshops. The difference is the sweatshops are filled with mentally disabled workers who manufacture parts for electronics companies, stuff envelopes for marketing companies and a variety of other tasks. These workers are paid piecemeal, and a typical hourly rate for these workers is $1-$2 per hour. Furthermore, these programs are subsidized by federal and state monies. The reason these workers are paid so low is not that they can't work as fast as a non-mentally disabled worker, they are simply doing jobs that it's cheaper to hire labor than purchase machinery to do the same work. The sweatshops exist in virtually every community, look in your phone book under sheltered workshops.

A confidential survey of human resource executives was asked if they've changed their hiring practices after the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect. Personnel offices are actually less likely to hire someone with a disability today because they know that it's more difficult to fire someone who isn't working out. These hiring practices are easy to justify because many people with severe disabilities don't have strong a work history. Rather than giving an individual or break and allowing them to prove themselves, they are erring on the side of caution and not hiring them in the first place.

Most people with disabilities cannot purchase life insurance, and many cannot purchase health insurance. Because of this, people with disabilities frequently will avoid going to work because they are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. The risk of losing health insurance and personal care attendants is far scarier than losing their cash income from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Medicare provides a subsidy for people with disabilities to have "paratransit" to medical appointments. This handy door-to-door service is available nationwide and paid for 100%. Unfortunately, paratransit has actually damaged the transportation system for people with disabilities. If you are not going to a medical appointment is very difficult to schedule paratransit, and it is very expensive. While a typical taxi service charged six dollars to travel from my home to my office, the paratransit service which was the only accessible service in my community charges $38. Rather than subsidizing on a per trip basis, Medicare would have been better off subsidizing installation of ramps and lifts in taxi services.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect the number of Americans classified as disabled has risen from approximately 9 million to as high as 60 million by some estimates. The reason for this increase is not that people are more disabled, it's that the classification of Americans with disabilities has been broadened dramatically. Having a disability no longer requires that you need assistance with activities of daily life. Today a disabilities classified based on the degree of prejudice you experience in your life. If you experience prejudice outside of skin color, creed, ethnicity or gender, you are probably disabled.

Today most federal forms allow you to decline to answer questions about race. Regardless of your skin color you do not have to classify yourself as African-American, etc. However, you are not allowed to de-classify yourself as disabled. An individual with AIDS who is perfectly healthy is still considered disabled because of the potential for prejudice. Simply identifying the potential for prejudice sometimes can exacerbate prejudice.

As America ages, even if the classification of people with disabilities is not broadened, we can expect the number of people with disabilities to grow.

People with disabilities have a nickname for the rest of you. We call them TABs or TABbies. This acronym stands for Temporarily Able-Bodied. The reality is that any person in America can become disabled. You're very unlikely to become black, become Hispanic, become Muslim or become a woman involuntarily. Your likelihood of becoming disabled in one form or another before the age of 75 is about one in six. Your likelihood of becoming disabled if you live to be 75 years old is about two thirds.
I haven't done the research yet, but I'd like to see where the rest of the candidates stand on improving life for people with disabilities in America. I encourage you to write to candidates, as well as your currently elected officials and indicate to them that this is an important issue that needs to be near the top of mind.

Mr. Obama is correct about one thing. America needs to reassert itself as the clear leader for people with disabilities. In 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed not only was a groundbreaking in terms of the effect in America, but it became a benchmark for other countries as well.

Today many other societies have far surpassed America in terms of integrating people with disabilities and to society in a way that's very dignified. India for example has subsidies for people with disabilities that are paid to employers. These subsidies help employers who hire disabled people if the disabled individual is not as productive as the average worker. This actually creates an incentive for Indian companies to hire the disabled, because during the learning curve phase of their employment when they are naturally less productive, part of their salary is subsidized. As a disabled person becomes more productive, the subsidy is reduced, but ultimately the employer has gained a strong employee. Public transportation in Great Britain is some of the best in the world for people with disabilities. While they have a long ways to go, simply because the country is a thousand years old, it's still easier to travel in Great Britain that it is across most county lines in the United States.

I'll be anxious to hear what Mr. Obama has to say next week. If he says something that impresses me, it may even cause me to vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate for the first time since I started voting.

Coincidentally, I registered to vote and paid my first taxes the year before the Americans with Disabilities Act came to pass.


  1. Anonymous10:20:00 AM

    I don't have any great wisdom to give to improve the daily living of those who are disabled in our country. I do think though, that unless the government, or states individually, create mandatory regulations for businesses and transportation services to be handicap accessible, it will never happen. I do hope that things change and I can't say that I'll vote for Obama just because he might do something about it, but it would definitely be a plus for a candidate in my eyes if they had some plan of action.


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