Why Are Disabled People Forced To Live In Poverty?

Adulthood is challenging for most people. As a 22-year-old woman with Cerebral Palsy, it has been even more challenging. Growing up, I was told that if I worked hard in school and went to college, I’d be able to land a full-time job. I was unaware of how much ableism is rampant in the adult world.

In the United States, 19.1% of people with a disability worked last year. That percentage needs to be much higher than it is. Those who do not have disabilities are three times more likely to be employed than those who do. The statistics don’t match up with what I was told throughout my childhood.

I first discovered how employment is affected by disability in my freshman year of college. I began to question whether or not college was worth it. I don’t want to be unemployed after graduating from college. I’ve been looking for work since 2019 and haven’t been able to find a job. Cerebral Palsy is a barrier to employment. I grew up believing that my disability wouldn’t hold me back from anything.

I rely on government assistance to live in my community. Medicaid pays for my personal care attendants. Medicaid imposes income and asset limits. I couldn’t work or get out of bed without Medicaid. I couldn’t afford my medical expenses without Medicaid.

My power wheelchair cost over $20,000, and my PCA services cost over $50,000 a year. I don’t have over $70,000 to cover these medical expenses out of pocket. Medicaid is tied to my SSI. Living off $871 a month is a challenge. Disability benefits are not a livable income for anyone. It’s no surprise that, according to a 2015 NPR article, persons with disabilities are twice as likely as their nondisabled counterparts to live in poverty.

Adults with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. Discrimination and ableism hold us back more than you might think. We shouldn’t have to be unemployed and living in poverty. Disabled children deserve to grow up knowing they can attend college and get a job. Nobody would think of imposing these limits on non-disabled people. Why is forced poverty okay for us?


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

Roberts, Lily, et al. “Removing Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the U.S. Labor Market.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 23 May 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/removing-obstacles-for-disabled-workers-would-strengthen-the-u-s-labor-market/.

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