What Will It Take To Have Fewer Disabled People Live In Poverty?

Recently on my blog, I have discussed how many disabled people live in poverty. According to a 2015 article published by NPR, those with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than their nondisabled counterparts. Why is this? There are a few reasons.

Issues such as food insecurity and homelessness also impact 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. We need to work together to help alleviate these issues within the disabled community.

What will it take for fewer of us with disabilities to live in poverty? In America, disabled people are more likely to be unemployed. In 2021, 19.1 percent of people with disabilities worked in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This represents a slight increase from 17.9% in 2020. If they cannot find work, disabled Americans will be stuck living in poverty forever.

Medicaid also needs to eliminate income and asset limits. Millions of Americans with disabilities rely on Medicaid coverage. Medicaid pays for my PCA hours. My PCAs help me with toileting, getting dressed, transportation, and other essential activities. Without my PCA, I’d have no way of getting to work each day or being able to use the bathroom while at work. I couldn’t work full-time without Medicaid. Realistically, it would be nearly impossible to go an entire workday without using the restroom.

Sometimes employers are also unwilling to provide necessary accommodations. Having a personal care assistant available is critical to my career success. Employers aren’t required to allow a PCA in the workplace. “Neither the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nor Section 501 requires PAS (personal assistance services) as a reasonable accommodation, except when needed for work-related travel”, according to the Job Accommodation Network. When I’ve applied for employment and explained that I need a PCA, employers have told me that they won’t be able to accommodate me.

One of the biggest reasons disabled people are unemployed and therefore living in poverty is society’s attitudes towards disabled people. Disabled people can be valuable employees. However, employers must be willing to hire them first. If I disclose my disability, most of the time, people are no longer interested in interviewing me. Even when I have been interviewed, employers don’t know how to accommodate someone with a physical disability.

I have been actively looking for work since December of 2019, and have interviewed less than half a dozen times. Earlier this week, I was turned down for a front desk agent position at a local Homewood Suites hotel after telling the manager that I have Cerebral Palsy. I understand that I’ll never be a pilot, neurosurgeon, or architect. Still, I can be a secretary in an office, a front desk agent in a hotel, or a cashier in a supermarket. All of those positions are ones that I’ve been rejected from after disclosing my disability. It shouldn’t matter that I’d be using a power wheelchair at work.

With barriers such as the ones I’ve mentioned above, it is unsurprising that disabled Americans often live in poverty. Employers must recognize that a disability does not inherently mean unemployability. Helping more disabled Americans land jobs would mean a lower poverty rate. To support the disabled community, we need to work together.


Fessler, Pam. “Why Disability and Poverty Still Go Hand in Hand 25 Years After Landmark Law.” NPR, NPR, 23 July 2015, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/23/424990474/why-disability-and-poverty-still-go-hand-in-hand-25-years-after-landmark-law.

“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/.

“Personal Assistance in the Workplace.” Job Accommodation Network, Job Accommodation Network, https://askjan.org/topics/persassist.cfm.

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.

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