July is Disability Pride Month. To me, disability pride means being proud of who I am, and all the things that I’ve accomplished, in a world that’s still extremely inaccessible and places a huge amount of stigma on disability. I’m going to write a post a week throughout the month of July on different disability-related things. I thought that I’d start with some basics of things you might not know about disability, or misconceptions you may have that aren’t actually true.
The ADA does not mean things are magically accessible now.
I’m starting with what I think is one of the most common misconceptions. People often think that after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, that inaccessibility was magically fixed somehow – but that is so, so far from the case. The ADA is actually civil rights law – it guarantees that disabled people have the same rights as non-disabled people. But the how – the actual logistics behind it – is a little bit trickier. There’s no enforcement agency for the ADA – so while businesses are required to follow the law, there’s no one checking up on them, making sure they actually are. And when we find a business who isn’t in line with ADA requirements, it’s up to the disabled person affected to either work with a lawyer or file a complaint with the Department of Justice… which they may or may not have the time and resources to address. Plus, the ADA requires things to be accessible unless making them accessible would be an “undue burden,” which is incredibly situational and vague.
I don’t want to get too deep into the intricacies of the law, but all of this is to say that the ADA did not fix accessibility. Many, many things in my daily life remain inaccessible, and it can be exhausting dealing with it each and every day.
Marriage inequality still exists for many disabled people.
Many disabled people, like me, rely on the state to help fund their care – whether it’s insurance related through Medicaid, or to pay for PCAs that help me live and remain employed. But there are restrictions placed on eligibility for these services – there are cutoffs for the amount of income you can earn each month, and also for the assets you can have (checking and savings accounts, insurance policies, trust funds…). These limits are, by and large, very very low and very difficult to stay under. But it becomes even more challenging when you’re planning to get married, because in many states, your eligibility is then determined by your JOINT income and assets. So a limit that was already low becomes almost impossible.
It seems to be based on the assumption that, if you are in a relationship as a disabled person, your partner can and should be responsible for all caregiving duties, and you’re no longer eligible for services that make paid care affordable. Because of this, many disabled people choose not to get legally married, so they can remain eligible for the benefits that, quite literally, help keep them alive.
It’s still legal to forcibly sterilize disabled people.
The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has brought this back into public consciousness a little bit, but – it’s still legal for disabled people to be sterilized against their will. The Supreme Court case back in the 1920s, Buck v. Bell, affirmed this, and that case has never been overturned, making it “good” law. And in terms of state laws, 31 states plus DC have laws that allow for forced surgical sterilization, and 17 states allow for the sterilization of disabled children (this article has more information). We have a long, long way to go for reproductive freedom.
Disabled people can be paid below minimum wage.
Not only do disabled people need to worry about keeping their income below limits set to remain eligible for state services like I mentioned before, but it can actually be legal to pay them below minimum wage. It’s called subminimum wage (it’s historically known as sheltered workshops), and it means that legally, employers can apply for a certificate that allows them to pay certain disabled employees below minimum wage.
Again – this is all based on the assumption that these disabled people don’t add value to the employer; that the employer is basically doing them a favor by hiring them. It’s insulting! All people deserve to be paid fair, equitable wages for their work.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of all disability-related issues – but it’s a good place to start of some common misconceptions and some inequalities you might not be aware of.