I was a senior in high school when I was first referred to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. I was eager to see what kind of support VR could offer me. Initially, MRC provided a tuition waiver for the state university and gas money for the 50-minute commute. I was hopeful that they would help me land a job after completing my bachelor’s degree.
My counselor, on the other hand, was quickly moved to some other section of the office. This meant I’d get a new counselor. I had a face-to-face meeting with this new counselor. I had hoped for no change. I quickly learned that contacting anyone at the office was extremely hard. I left voicemails and e-mails that were never returned. Trying to get in touch with anyone became a chore. I gave up attempting to get help through the vocational rehabilitation office. I was very dissatisfied with my experience.
I began to wonder why VR even existed. They are supposed to help those with disabilities obtain employment. My question is, where is that help? I’m a 22-year-old living with Cerebral Palsy, and I have been looking for a job since December 2019. I constantly get rejected because of my disability. This is illegal, but it happens anyway.
When I began looking at colleges, I wanted to go somewhere with excellent disability services. Westfield State University was touted as having an excellent learning disabilities program. I wasn’t used to having to request accommodations every single semester and constantly advocated for myself, so that wasn’t easy.
When Westfield State shifted all online due to COVID-19, this was even harder. I didn’t have the same access to the disability services office. I ended up having to take the autumn semester of this year off, due to scheduling issues and payment issues. In November of last year, I was eager to return to campus in January. I sent in my re-enrolment application. I emailed my advisor with the classes I wanted to take. She never responded to multiple emails. I finally met with my advisor in late December via Zoom to finalize my course load.
Nearly a week passed, and I checked my schedule. Much to my dismay, I had never been registered for the full course load. Eventually, my mom called the university and complained. It was only then that I found out that the administrative assistant was out sick, so she never received my advisor’s email to enroll me in the classes we had discussed. I finally gave up my hopes of attending Westfield State. For a university that supposedly has good disability services, I felt let down.
Disabled people often struggle to afford necessities. I receive a monthly SSI check. It is less than $900 a month. This is less than 100% of the FPL for one person in 2022. Millions of disabled people live below the poverty line in America. Again, there isn’t enough help for people like us in America. If it weren’t for programs such as Medicaid, many of us wouldn’t be able to live at home. I don’t want to be in my twenties and living in a nursing home. Without resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and food banks, many disabled people would go hungry.
Living in poverty impacts those with disabilities disproportionately. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), disabled individuals faced food insecurity at a rate more than twice that of their non-disabled counterparts in 2020. Disabled people account for 38.6% of sheltered homeless people in America, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
Disabled people in America are also more likely to be unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of those with disabilities worked in the United States in 2021. This is a slight increase from 17.9% in 2020. If those with disabilities are unable to land jobs, they’ll be stuck living in poverty forever. Medicaid also needs to eliminate its asset and income limits so that disabled people can go to work and not lose their healthcare coverage.
Americans with disabilities shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or living in a nursing home. Nor should we worry about being unemployed. We need more help from the people whose job is to help us. Disabled Americans deserve equal opportunities!
Altiraifi, Azza. “A Deadly Poverty Trap: Asset Limits in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 7 Apr. 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/disability/news/2020/04/07/482736/deadly-poverty-trap-asset-limits-time-coronavirus/.
“Federal Poverty Level (FPL).” HealthCare.gov, HealthCare.gov, 12 Jan. 2022, https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/.
“Homelessness in America: Overview of Data and Causes.” The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2018, https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet.pdf.
Ives-Rublee, Mia, and Christine Sloane. “Alleviating Food Insecurity in the Disabled Community.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 22 Nov. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/alleviating-food-insecurity-in-the-disabled-community/.
Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary – 2021.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.