It has been nearly three decades since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by George H.W. Bush. The first civil rights legislation to protect against discrimination on the basis of disability, the ADA was an exciting step forward for the disability community. But, just as every other protected class has experienced, the fight for equality is one that takes place on a long road with few clear ways of measuring progress.
In an effort to better understand the economic disparities and opportunities for people with disabilities 25 years after the ADA, Pam Fessler of NPR took a glimpse at the struggle and strength of one young man in Oklahoma. The reality of for people with disabilities is:
“if you have a disability in the U.S., you’re twice as likely to be poor as someone without a disability. You’re also far more likely to be unemployed. And that gap has widened in the 25 years since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted.”
Emeka Nnaka’s Story
Emeka Nnaka was 21-years-old when he experienced a spinal cord injury playing semipro football. Six years later, Nnaka invited the journalist to join him on a day of running errands with the wheelchair accessible van he had recently acquired. About to complete his bachelor’s degree, he made a stop at a staffing agency to fill out applications. From a lack of automatic doors to public computers without accessibility features, Nnaka moved forward with his day as he encountered one structural barrier after another.
Facing challenges and steadily moving toward his goals, that is what he knows. Nnaka explained that even the purchase of his new van was a complicated process. The local community raised the vast majority of the funds, but the money could not be deposited in the bank without risking eligibility for the monthly check he receives from the government for food and shelter. Despite the obstacles, Nnaka remains focused on his goals of achieving a master’s in human relations and becoming financially independent. The road will not be easy.
Poverty, Disability and Employment
While the ADA makes strides toward promoting similar or equal opportunities for people with work-limiting disabilities to those without a disability, it is clear that there is extensive work to be done to find job-search equality. Problems ranging from infrastructure to transportation and more, limit people with work-limiting disabilities to get around and apply for jobs as easily as a person without a disability. There is legislation and national practices that need to be taken into consideration to create a workforce that provides equal opportunity to get around, apply for jobs, find employment and bridge the gap between disability and poverty.