By Rebecca Cokley, The Nation, March 10, 2023
The disability community is reeling this week over the passing of Judith Heumann. Judy, a polio survivor, spent most of her 75 years advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, in school, in employment, in foreign policy, in the United States and globally. She served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and pioneered roles at the World Bank and the Ford Foundation. But the reality is that Judy, like so many disabled people, had to work until her death to maintain the quality of life that she needed to stay in the community and avoid being forced against her will into an institution or nursing home.
As Rebecca Vallas at the Disability and Economic Justice Collaborative says, “Disability is a cause and consequence of poverty.” Rules and regulations regarding Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Workforce Investment Act, and Medicaid govern every decision people with disabilities can make about their economic status, from what college to attend to whether to marry.
Research from the National Disability Institute shows that households with a person with a disability that their ability to work have approximately $17,000 in additional annual expenses than a comparable household without a person with a disability. People with disabilities experience poverty at twice the rate of nondisabled people. The disability community experiences higher levels of homelessness, food insecurity, and unemployment than people without disabilities. And before the global pandemic, more than 10,0000 people with disabilities died in one year while waiting for benefits approval. Not surprisingly, these statistics become even more stark when incorporating race, gender, and 2LGBTQIAP identities.