Throughout my childhood, I was fully included in everyday life. I was educated alongside non-disabled peers and participated in martial arts, baseball, and summer camps. I enjoyed extracurricular activities immensely and was able to form meaningful friendships. Growing up, I imagined that my adulthood would be like any other adult’s. I had high hopes for myself. I knew that I wanted to go to college and be able to hold a full-time job afterward.
Reality looks very different than the vision that I had for my future. It’s as if society ignores the fact that disabled children grow up. I’d never been more concerned about my future than when I graduated from high school. I felt lost after years of attending daycare, preschool, and public school. I suddenly had no idea how my life would turn out.
I enrolled in college, intending to earn a bachelor’s degree. The disability support services at Westfield State University were well-known. They showcased an impressive variety of majors, clubs, and on-campus resources on their website.
It didn’t take long after I arrived on campus to realize that obtaining accommodations was difficult. Nothing was easy, from requesting exam accommodations to ensuring that I had accessible texts and furniture. It involved a level of advocacy I’d never seen before. I wanted to be included fully in the college experience. Receiving services through the office of disability services was seen as a significant advantage and special treatment by my peers.
After my first year at Westfield State, I went to the career center on campus in hopes of finding a summer job or internship. The staff was surprised to see me there. I contacted a local woman who runs a small publishing business. I was disappointed to learn that her home office isn’t wheelchair accessible.
After this, I began to look for information about disabled people and employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of people with disabilities worked in the United States in 2021. I wish more disabled Americans were employed. It saddens me that millions of disabled Americans are unemployed.
Those with disabilities who are employed often work in sheltered workshops. In these settings, disabled people frequently earn less than minimum wage. The average hourly wage in these places is $3.34. Subminimum wage is legal because, since 1938, U.S. labor law has maintained a rule that allows some individuals with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage. Performing menial tasks for a subminimum wage is not what inclusion for people with disabilities looks like.
Everyone is entitled to a fair wage. Sheltered workshops are not an inclusive work environment for disabled people. People with disabilities can be valuable employees if given an opportunity. Employers, on the other hand, must be willing to hire and accommodate them. In my own experience, employers don’t want to hire me when they find out that I have Cerebral Palsy.
Growing up, I had hopes of getting married and being a mother someday as well. I assumed I’d be able to get married like non-disabled people can. A couple of years ago, I learned that marriage might not be legally possible for me. Some disabled people who rely on programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income or SSI still cannot marry without their benefits being impacted or taken away entirely.
Inclusion shouldn’t end when children with disabilities become adults. Children with disabilities who are included in their classrooms and communities should become adults who can participate fully in society. Adults with disabilities deserve to live their lives to the fullest. Settings such as sheltered workshops and rules such as the marriage penalty don’t allow adults with disabilities to live life just like anyone else does.
“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.
Selyukh, Alina. “Workers with Disabilities Can Earn JUST $3.34 an HOUR. Agency Says Law Needs Change.” NPR, NPR, 17 Sept. 2020, http://www.npr.org/2020/09/17/912840482/u-s-agency-urges-end-to-below-minimum-wage-for-workers-with-disabilities.
Star, Eryn. “Marriage Equality Is Still Not a Reality: Disabled People and the Right to Marry.” Advocacy Monitor, National Council on Independent Living, 14 Nov. 2019, advocacymonitor.com/marriage-equality-is-still-not-a-reality-disabled-people-and-the-right-to-marry/.