According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million Americans live with some kind of disability – averaging out to 1 in 4. Disability means more than physical mobility issues, and includes mental health, vision, hearing, independent living, and more. In 2018, 1.6 million adults in the state of Virginia lived with one or more disabilities, with the most vulnerable groups being women, veterans, the elderly (age 65+), and people of color.
Unfortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act authorises employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage as long as they get a certificate from the federal government. Disabled students and workers need to pay more for accessible facilities, independently seek these resources, and jump through legal and administrative hoops just to do the same things as their able-bodied counterparts. Not only does this make the work harder, it takes longer. Companies can justify their low wages as a result of their ‘low productivity.’
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving the quality of life for affected individuals is the lack of awareness on accommodating disabilities. There are advocacy groups like the disABILITY Law Center of Virginia (dLCV) and community resources like disAbilityNavigator, but many challenges that people with disabilities face aren’t well known. The mantras of ‘work harder’ or ‘act normal’ are at the forefront instead. At the national level, the US still hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
All is not doom and gloom, however, as the Virginia Human Rights Act has been expanded to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of disability, effective July 1, 2021. This is a strong first step towards disability rights, but there is still work to be done:
- Amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to remove subminimum wages
- Expand Department of Labor’s ETA to include disability training for hiring managers
- Pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act to ban seclusion and restraints in school
- Ensure universal high-quality pre-K funding includes aid for disabled students & their families
- Provide accessible and accommodating medical equipment for all who need it.
- Ratify U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities