Employment and Wage Gaps for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Wage gap for people with disabilities

(infographic from http://www.air.org)

When considering points outlined in the revolutionary 1990 legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s often believed that one of those points included equal opportunity for employment and wages for persons with disabilities.

However, there are numerous positions of confusion when looking at statistics of individuals with disabilities who are actually in the workforce. While some applaud the improvements for the population with disabilities since the ADA passed, others feel it falls short of the goals set forth.

According to an August 2015 article:

This year is its 25th anniversary, and advocates are taking stock of whether the ADA has achieved its goals of equal opportunity and access. What it doesn’t seem to have done: improve employment and overall economic conditions for disabled Americans.

Studies show that at all levels of education, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed, or more likely to be underemployed, than were their counterparts with no disability, and were more likely to be working jobs in the service and labor sector as opposed to management and professional occupations.

Additionally, unemployment statistics show that individuals with disabilities who are ready and able to work, are unemployed and underemployed at a higher rate than those without disabilities, but that there has been improvement of that rate since the passage of the ADA.

On the other hand, the percentage of those who are working, yet living below the poverty level, has increased creating a wage gap that hasn’t improved over the years.

The question of wage equality

Part of the problem of wage equality lies within definitions, and the fact that certain disabilities can change during the course of one’s life, and others are temporary disabilities. All of these factors are difficult to measure when building a body of statistics.

The debate as to why there is a wage gap runs from employer reluctance to hire people with disabilities because they fear potential lawsuits, to the approach to disability benefits which often is an incentive to stay out of the workforce.

Solutions to wage equality and employment for those with disabilities are complex and continue to point out the perpetual work that needs to be done to create a better understanding of needs, as well as incentives for employers.

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One comment on “Employment and Wage Gaps for Adults with Developmental Disabilities
  1. donnargore says:

    Thanks for this informative article, Opengate! As a person with a permanent disability, possessing a Master’s Degree and working for a state agency for the blind and those with additional disabilities for 15 years, as well as working many years with senior patients in clinical settings , I have experienced this issue from many perspectives. It is a well known fact within the blind and visually impaired community that even those with advanced degrees, remain unemployed at a consistent rate of 70%. The reasons are many, with fear,as is discussed in the article, as a primary factor, as well of old stereotypes that persist, despite advanced technologies that assist in their acclimation to new careers. Vocational Rehabilitation Programs typically can fund several months of supportive employment with adaptive needs and technologies provided as internships. However, after the time is up, often employers feel as if they cannot take over the funding after the internship, thus no long term job at the end of the rainbow.

    In addition, we have the contrasting situation in which the Federal Government has imposed mandates to remove all sheltered workshops in which, according to ivory tower administrators, such jobs are undignified. Companies are forced to pay the minimum wage to all clients, even those who have very low productivity and the capability of earning less than a dollar per hour, thus straining budgets to the limit.Such clients often just want the dignity of having a job ,earning something and a reason to get up in the morning. They are not concerned with political correctness. I totally agree that those with disabilities who have the capability to earn wages commensurate with peers – based on gender or in the educational institutions should absolutely do so. To not provide equal access , including equal pay with non-disabled peers is unconscionable and ridiculous.

    I could also relate my experiences of discrimination over the years with spastic cerebral palsy and the public’s “preconceived ideas”. However, I will save this for another forum.

    I am fortunate to make a good salary without the current need for disability entitlements and the benefit of good health insurance and good health. I applaud Opengate’s mission and what they continually strive to do to secure the future for everyone they serve. Yes, there surely are other rewards other then economic, but why should this situation exist when many in the disabled community feel as if they have to “do more,and do it better” just because a disability is a facet of their lives?

    Donna R. Gore, M. A.
    (Resident – State of Connecticut and South Carolina)

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