This Wednesday, July 26, marks the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Did you know that 27 percent of adults in the United States have some type of disability? And as we are living longer, this number will surely increase. Fifteen percent of all public school students have a disability requiring special education programs.
Since its passage, we have seen many advances in both opportunities and the accommodations necessary to help those with disabilities succeed. Everyone has seen designated parking spaces, larger public bathrooms, and cut-outs in sidewalk curbs to support people with physical disabilities. But what about those with more invisible disabilities like mental health disorders and autism that often result in unusual, and sometimes dangerous behavioral symptoms? What have we done to support them?
Despite advances in housing, transportation, and employment accommodations, people with disabilities live in poverty at a rate twice as high as those without disabilities – 25 percent versus 12 percent. Part of the discrepancy is because people with disabilities are less likely to be employed, and if they are employed, it may be part-time employment or they may be underemployed, not meeting their full potential. Less than 40 percent of people with all types of disabilities are employed, compared to 65 percent of those without a disability.
We can and must do better! Family members and individuals with disabilities report not having information about what programs and services are available to them. Many young people exiting the school system sit at home because they have not received appropriate planning to assist them in finding an appropriate job, even though schools are required to aid in the transition to post-secondary activities including education and vocational training.
We must all take responsibility for our most vulnerable citizens and support legislation that increases options for individuals with disabilities and ensures that they are informed about the array of accommodations available to them. We must assist those who need help to register and access the programs they are eligible for, and we must help potential employers discover the gifts and abilities of those with disabilities, instead of the challenges.
On the 33rd anniversary of the ADA, let’s all make it our responsibility to reach out and provide support to someone with a disability—whether it is a family member, neighbor, or coworker—we can all make their lives a little easier, and our lives a little richer.
Susan Kabot, EdD, CCC-SLP, is the Chief of Programs and Research at the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. She was a member of the Council for ten years, including five as chair, before joining the staff in 2021. Dr. Kabot spent more than 35 years at Nova Southeastern University developing and supervising programs for children and young adults with autism. She continues to teach courses in autism and developmental disabilities at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels. A member of the Autism Society of America, she currently serves on their Panel of Professional Advisors.