The role of disabled individuals within the U.S. Labor force has, in my humble opinion, been mired in controversy and gross double standards propelled by certain government sanctioned bodies and entities, while the disabled community in the United States are constantly fed speeches and platitudes regarding their equal treatment. This all takes place on the background of the practices, procedures, and protocols that are intended to move this country’s actionable workforce into the bountiful progression of equal opportunity, access, and viability for equal pay that reflects the worth our individual and collective work ethic. The flowery sentiment behind those thoughts and words rarely, if ever, becomes congruent with tangible concrete action, as far as deed is concerned. I speak entirely for myself with this next statement!
For the primary existence of my adult life, I have felt monetarily unvalued, discriminated against, and otherwise demonstrably unwanted by the members of productive working society. According to percentages provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 17.9 percent of all disabled persons actually worked a gainfully employed job. That percentage margin was actually down, believe it or not, juxtaposed with the same information provided from the source material in 2019. In 2019, the national percentage for the working disabled community was 19.3 percent.
To be fair, the number of non-disabled employed persons in the workforce decreased as well from 66.3 percent in 2019, to 61.8 percent overall in 2020. All things considered, pandemic effect included with that consideration, I would draw your attention to the immutable fact of workplace disparity between those that work without a disability, and those individuals that work simultaneously in accordance with their disability. The conclusion that I’ve reached for myself, and through conversing with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances alike, is that the road to employment can be tough as nails, and seemingly unrelenting for anyone searching in the job market. However, the emphasis of, and on, those hardships can be exponentially amplified when the individual looking for work is disabled. There can be myriad reasons for this outcome. I feel the problem has a two pronged focus, one of them I’ve previously mentioned - that being the devaluing of workers with disabilities. The other I have also alluded to previously in other realms of expression, and on other platforms: pay inequality due to guidelines set forth by Medicaid, and put into practice by that very same agency.
As of October 1, 2021 a new day seems to have dawned on that very front. I am referring to the recent changes to the Medicaid Insurance for Workers With Disabilities Law, or LB 323. The revised version of this law in its most basic of explanations makes it possible for those with disabilities to work without the forfeiture of your medical benefits due to the fact that you work.
That is a step in the direction of full equality for the disabled community that I never dreamed would be reached. Paraphrasing the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, the disabled community has never been looking for a handout, just the semblance of a possible hand up as it relates to pay equity, and workplace equality. The changes to LB 323 allow for that ever present dream to become more of a reality.
Michael Warner is a disability advocate, activist and consultant residing in Omaha, NE and a past member of the Disability Rights Nebraska Board of Directors.