Daily Kos Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month, October, 2022

National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Our Equity Commitment at Daily Kos

“At Daily Kos, the Equity Council works to build a better organization and community by focusing on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Kos Media. The Equity Council issues this statement as a commitment to these ideals, and to encourage Daily Kos to take action internally and externally to support the movement.”

Our work in the fall of 2022 is no less urgent than it was in the summer of 2020, when we were reeling from the disproportionately deadly impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities and also from the flagrant, ubiquitous, systemic disregard for the rights of Black and brown people to live in peace and safety anywhere in this country.

We cannot afford to continue the status quo in any area; a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is the antithesis of the healing we need. Hence our original initiative has grown. Lauren Sue, a current co-chair, describes the aims of the Equity Council:

We don’t discard people here. We celebrate each other. We laugh with each other, and we respect and support each other. We want that work to continue every day and to expand to the larger site community until it’s no longer work, until respecting each other and valuing each other is innate.

“Disability rights are civil rights.”
“Same struggle, different difference.”
“Nothing about us without us.”

In the United States, the fight for inclusion, respect, and dignity for all has a long history, with each hard-won advancement coming only gradually.

The federal effort to recognize people with disabilities began in 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October to be “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The word “physically” was dropped in 1962 to include individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week and christened the month of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The struggle is far from complete, progress notwithstanding. Even now, many structural barriers remain that hinder disabled people from living their lives to the fullest capacity.

Disability rights are basic human rights, not special rights. Persons with disabilities have the same rights as all people to non-discrimination, access, equality of opportunity, inclusion and full participation in society.  These are the basic principles underlying the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Yet the rights of disabled people are often violated due to prejudice and discrimination.  Physical, attitudinal, and institutional barriers can also marginalize disabled people. “Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Fact Sheet from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (20 January 2021)

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Modeled on the civil rights acts that had become law a generation earlier, this omnibus legislation addresses inequities and discrimination in employment, state and local governance, and public accommodations. Like other legislation attempting to outlaw discrimination and guarantee access to all, it would not have come to pass without decades of focused and dedicated activism by people affected most directly: in this case, disabed Americans.

We live in an ableist society. Public institutions and private enterprise alike are designed to accommodate children and adults who meet narrowly-defined expectations of human capacity, creating barriers and exclusions for those who do not. And yet, the CDC estimated in 2016 that as many as 26% of all American adults have at least one disability.

Disability is a natural part of the human condition; it’s a human characteristic like any other we may have. Having a disability is not a ‘bad thing’ – it’s just a thing – like having blue eyes or curly hair. Unfortunately, our society has stigmatized disability and created a perception that people with disabilities are ‘less than’ non-disabled people. Day 1: Intro to Disability Justice

While barriers to full participation exist throughout our society, in schooling, housing, health care, recreation, and every other aspect of life, addressing the issues pertinent to National Disability Employment Awareness Month would have a powerful effect in other arenas as well.

Campaigns on behalf of low-wage workers, such as Fight for $15, have been focusing their efforts on increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 from $7.25/hour, the current floor that has remained unchanged since 2009 and does not permit a full-time worker to meet minimum expenses in any part of the country. Certain categories of workers, however, are not even protected by minimum wage laws. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits employers to pay “workers who have disabilities for the work being performed” much less than that hourly wage. The ongoing legacy of racism, sexism, and ableism in this country perpetuates the attitude that some people’s work is less valuable than others, and this is one key instance of that discriminatory heritage.

Disability-rights activists and allies, such as One Fair Wage and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), are seeking to change the entire framework that the FLSA uses, but progress remains slow.

‘Subminimum wage impacts more than just how much we get paid,’ Kayla McKeon says via email. ‘It impacts our ability to reach our goals and fullest potential. When people with disabilities are not paid what they deserve, it makes it much harder for them to do things like get married, live independently, participate in their communities, and so much more. …
‘People with disabilities are like everyone else, and we want to find meaningful and competitive integrated employment where we can receive fair wages. We want the American Dream.’
Kayla McKeon, manager of grassroots advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society and the first registered U. S. lobbyist with Down Syndrome

The current structure of Social Security Insurance (SSI), the primary federal program offering meager financial support to people without other sources of income, also manifests the intersection of racism, ableism, and colonialism (immigrants and residents of U.S. Territories being ineligible for SSI). As noted in a recent publication by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Due to persistent racial disparities in health care access and quality — as well as in access to food, affordable housing, high-quality schools, and economic opportunity — people of color are likelier to become disabled. And due to persistent economic disparities, people of color are likelier to have incomes below the poverty line.” People eligible for SSI by virtue of their disabling conditions can find themselves in a trap, unable to work without risking total loss of their small but still tangible benefits–and also unable to find work that pays them appropriately, or that makes appropriate accommodations.

The financial pressures on families, communities, and the nation at large as a result of the failures of this program are consequently considerable. The disability community has agitated for years on behalf of improvements to SSI. As more and more people suffer the effects of Long COVID–a condition disproportionately affecting already-marginalized people on the basis of race, class, and disability–the inadequacy of current social and economic supports will be felt even more acutely.

In short, there is no time like the present to agitate for the fulfillment of the core principle, “Disability rights are human rights.”

At Daily Kos, our Staff and Community writers cover important issues related to disability communities, striving to keep you aware and informed.

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Christopher Reeves
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Disability Activism: “Nothing about us without us”

21-Day Disability Equity Challenges

Several civic organizations have crafted “21 day disability equity challenges” to promote understanding of the importance of disability rights. These resource guides are patterned on the “21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge©”, an innovative approach proposed by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. to foster greater “understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” and modify one’s behavior accordingly. Two examples of the 21-day curriculum applied to disability: - ABA Wide 21-Day Disability Equity Habit-Building Challenge © - Disability Equity Challenge