Disability

People with Disabilities: The World’s Largest Minority with the Least Amount of Attention

When you think of the phrase “minority group” what do you think of? Many people think of minorities as people who are not Caucasian, women, the LGBTQ+ community, or people who practice a different faith than the majority in their country. However, more often than not, people with disabilities are not thought about in discussions about minority hiring, minority sensitivity training, minority rights, etc. The disabled community is the largest minority group in the world. According to the United Nations, “Around 10 per cent of the world’s population, or 650 million people, live with a disability. They are the world’s largest minority.” Because people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, why is there not more discussion regarding the needs of the disabled community in our society and our governments? Why are people with disabilities still excluded from certain venues due to inaccessibility? Why is there less of a push to hire people with disabilities than there is to hire people of color, women, or people of alternative faiths in the workforce? Why are people with disabilities excluded from sensitivity trainings regarding interacting with people who are seen as minorities, and why are there less trainings on how to interact with people with physical disabilities for our First Responders? Why is there still such a struggle for access to accessible travel for people with physical disabilities? Finally, why are we not having more discussions about the largest minority in the world?

Photo Description: Man in a wheechair sitting in front of stairs going up with words stating, “An Overlooked Minority”.

The United Nations states, “Comparative studies on disability legislation shows that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws.” Even countries such as the United States who have laws protecting the rights of disabled Americans need to restructure their legislation to update it to the 21st century. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990, and since then, only three revisions have been made. One went into effect in 2011 which was to update the requirements for standards of accessible design requiring businesses to be in full compliance by March of 2012. The second revision to Title II and III occurred in July of 2016 which was signed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch which was meant to “clarify the meaning and interpretation of the ADA definition of “disability” to ensure that the definition of disability would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis.” Title III was finally revised and signed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch which took effect in January of 2017. This revision was done “to further clarify a public accommodation’s obligation to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities. The Final Rule requires movie theaters to: (1) have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features; (2) provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and (3) ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features.

Public Accommodations

Since 2016, no further revisions have been made to the ADA. However, the ADA does not fully protect individuals with disabilities in the United States. There are multiple clauses within the ADA that allow certain businesses to not follow the ADA requirements. According to the ADA law, “A public entity shall maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities by the Act or this part.” However, “This section does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs.” By including this clause in the ADA, it allows public entities to create barriers to access by persons with disabilities for structural upgrades. This means that public entities can create barriers to access by tearing up the sidewalks, putting equipment in the accessible parking areas (which I have encountered), have non-working elevators restricting access to other parts of the building for people with disabilities. Typically, when this situation occurs the agency does not make a public notification that their facility is currently not accessible. This results in a disabled individual going to the agency for treatment, service, or pleasure only to find that they cannot access it once they arrive. It also states that certain places are exempt from compliance with the ADA including, but not limited to: Residential facilities dwelling units, Exercise machines and equipment, Play areas, Swimming pools, wading pools, and spas, Shooting facilities with firing positions and Accessible route to bowling lanes. Why should these facilities not be required to be accommodating to people with disabilities? Shouldn’t people with disabilities have the same access to accessible housing, exercise equipment, play areas, swimming pools and spas, and shooting and bowling facilities? People with disabilities are not always confined to their homes. We want to be able to participate in activities outside of the home with our families. We want to be active in our community, but these exemptions from the ADA don’t require these types of facilities to be accessible, resulting in the need for people with disabilities to miss out on these activities or to raise money to build their own accessible recreational areas. Kids with disabilities want to play with their friends on the playground, but many are inaccessible or not inclusive. See these articles about how families, churches or schools had to raise money for an accessible playground because the city failed to provide them.

Family Raises Money to Build Very Special Playground; Southeast Side Church Raises Money for Inclusive Playground; Local Boy Wants to Make Playground Handicap-Accessible; Elementary School Raises Money for Inclusive Playground

People with disabilities who want to be active and exercise are often required to find an adaptive gym near them with equipment they can use. Usually, these facilities are only available in rehabilitation centers or other specially adapted centers who cater only to people with disabilities. Some people don’t have the luxury of living close to a facility such as this, and have to look very hard to find accessible exercise facilities that meet their needs. Our communities should be more inclusive, and not segregate the disabled individuals just because they may need an adaptive machine.

There are many public places that do not follow the rules of the ADA. For example, one of the rules of the ADA is, “Tickets for accessible seating must be made available at all price levels for every event or series of events. If tickets for accessible seating at a particular price level are not available because of inaccessible features, then the percentage of tickets for accessible seating that should have been available at that price level (determined by the ratio of the total number of tickets at that price level to the total number of tickets in the assembly area) shall be offered for purchase, at that price level, in a nearby or similar accessible location.” I know for a fact that one of the largest venues in Indianapolis, the Old National Center (formerly the Murat Theater), only has accessible seating on the lower level, and there is no option to purchase accessible seating in the balcony where ticket prices are cheaper. Many of the sites that sell tickets online for Old National Center, including their own website, do not provide an option for you to choose wheelchair accessible seating which requires the person to call the box office to order their tickets. This is a violation of the ADA.

“A public entity that sells tickets for a single event or series of events shall modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to purchase tickets for accessible seating—

  • (i) During the same hours;
  • (ii) During the same stages of ticket sales, including, but not limited to, pre-sales, promotions, lotteries, wait-lists, and general sales;
  • (iii) Through the same methods of distribution;
  • (iv) In the same types and numbers of ticketing sales outlets, including telephone service, in-person ticket sales at the facility, or third-party ticketing services, as other patrons; and
  • (v) Under the same terms and conditions as other tickets sold for the same event or series of events.”
Old National Center seating chart showing only wheelchair accessible seats

Another venue which I have not yet visited, the Helium Comedy Club in Indianapolis, also violates portions of the ADA when it comes to ticket sales and description of the accessible seating area. According to the ADA,

“A public entity that sells tickets for a single event or series of events shall modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to purchase tickets for accessible seating—

  • (i) During the same hours;
  • (ii) During the same stages of ticket sales, including, but not limited to, pre-sales, promotions, lotteries, wait-lists, and general sales;
  • (iii) Through the same methods of distribution;
  • (iv) In the same types and numbers of ticketing sales outlets, including telephone service, in-person ticket sales at the facility, or third-party ticketing services, as other patrons; and
  • (v) Under the same terms and conditions as other tickets sold for the same event or series of events.”

The ADA also requires the venue to, “Identify and describe the features of available accessible seating in enough detail to reasonably permit an individual with a disability to assess independently whether a given accessible seating location meets his or her accessibility needs.” The Helium Comedy Cub has an upstairs area where some of the shows are held. There is no description on whether or not the upstairs is accessible for patrons with physical disabilities. I purchased tickets for one of their downstairs shows online through their online ticket sales option, but they did not have an option to purchase accessible seating tickets. When I inquired about this through their online chat function, I was told I had to call the box office to inform them of my needs and they would put a note in my account and have everything ready for me when I arrived. The next day I called the box office to discuss my accessible seating needs, and inform them of my specific requirements. I asked about their layout and where my seat would be located because there was no description on their website. The only information I was provided was that they had noted my needs in my account, and that all would be accommodated. I still have no idea where my seat will be, or if it will truly be accessible. I don’t know if their restrooms will be accommodating to my needs. I am taking a gamble, because they have a no refund policy. If the seating that they feel is accessible is not in fact accessible to my needs then I will be out my money and my evening out with my husband. The Helium Comedy Club needs to do better when it comes to allowing accessible seating ticket purchasing, providing a seating chart showing the accessible seating options and describing the venue’s accessibility as a whole.

The problem with the ADA is that if the rules are not followed by businesses or agencies, it is up to the person with a disability to file a complaint. If nobody files a complaint, then nothing will be done to improve the situation. Why should the burden of ensuring compliance with the ADA be placed on the person with the disability? The United States needs to do a better job of monitoring, identifying and correcting ADA violations within cities and businesses without putting this burden on the disabled individual.

Employment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Across all age groups, the employment-population ratios were much lower for persons with a disability than for those with no disability.” It also reported, “Across all educational attainment groups, jobless rates for persons with a disability were higher than those for persons without a disability”, as well as, “In 2018, 31 percent of workers with a disability were employed part time, compared with 17 percent for those with no disability.” Clearly, the employment market is not looking at people with disabilities as people who are capable of performing job related tasks, and they are not actively seeking to employ people with disabilities. How often have you seen advertisements, news articles, or government pushes to employ minorities include people with disabilities in that group? Very rarely do employers seek out employment of people with disabilities to “diversify” their workforce. Most businesses and organizations who claim to be “diverse” show pictures of their employees who range from multiple ethnicities, genders, and races. When reporting diversity statistics, many companies don’t have a reporting section including people with disabilities such as Nike. Rarely is there a person with a disability pictured among these advertisements. People with disabilities are not seen as a minority group that are viable options for employment in multiple agencies even though people with disabilities have multiple skills that would benefit many agencies. One example is the chart below from Nike that shows their minority numbers. People with disabilities are not included in this chart.

Picture Description: Graph of Nike minority reporting stating, “Minorities are the Majority for the First Time at Nike.” It reports 48% White, 21% Black, 18% Hispanic/Latino, 7% Asian, 4% Two or More Races, less than 1% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, less than 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, less than 1% Unknown. No mention of disabilities within the minority report.

Sensitivity Training for First Responders and Correctional Officers

Lately, there has been a lot of attention on the police and first responders and correctional agencies regarding sensitivity training for people of color, alternative faiths, the LGBTQ+ community, and mental and intellectual disabilities. Rarely do first responder or correctional agencies provide training on how to interact with individuals with physical disabilities.

According to the Southwest ADA Center article written by Julie Ballinger, M.A. and Vinh Nguyen, J.D., M.B.A. (Ed.), “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimate of 32 percent of state and federal inmates have a disability, meaning more than 750,000 people with disabilities are incarcerated across the nation.” They also reported, “Inmates with disabilities who need accommodations are often overlooked, ignored, or even punished for their need of equal access. Abuse and neglect can be common features of prison life at higher rates for inmates with disabilities. The time they serve is harder, with more sanctions imposed and less access to positive programming than other inmates. Reported cases in 2016 describe situations in 21 states where facility staff seized wheelchairs, canes and walkers from inmates and denied them accommodations, services and programs in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

Some law enforcement agencies provide mental health and intellectual disability training, but many provide no training on how to interact with individuals with physical disabilities. This creates an atmosphere where first responders don’t know how to engage with people with disabilities. Many agencies do not have interpreters for deaf individuals in the field resulting in miscommunication between the individual and officer. Furthermore, when people with disabilities break the law, there are few regards to their personal health needs when being arrested. There have been multiple instances where a person with a physical disability have been denied their rights under the ADA for reasonable accommodations within the jail and prison system. Jamelia Morgan writes about an incident in a correctional facility in Oregon where a paralyzed prisoner was aggressively manhandled by guards, placed in a solitary cell without his wheelchair and no means of moving himself, and experienced multiple convulsions because he was not given his required anti-seizure medications. She also describes many other instances of violations of the ADA in correctional institutions because they don’t have accessible cells or beds. The Supreme Court stated in a ruling in Tennessee v. Lane et al., “The long history of unequal treatment of disabled persons in the administration of judicial services has persisted despite several state and federal legislative efforts to remedy the problem. Faced with considerable evidence of the shortcomings of these previous efforts, Congress was justified in concluding that the difficult and intractable problem of disability discrimination warranted added prophylactic measures. Hibbs, 538 U. S., at 737. The remedy Congress chose is nevertheless a limited one. Recognizing that failure to accommodate persons with disabilities will often have the same practical effect as outright exclusion.”

According to the Southwest ADA Center article written by Julie Ballinger, M.A. and Vinh Nguyen, J.D., M.B.A. (Ed.), “Standard transport practices can be dangerous for inmates with mobility disabilities. These inmates are at a high risk of unintentional injury when being transferred and seated in a vehicle that is not accessible to them. Individuals with mobility disabilities are usually unable to keep themselves securely seated without the proper space and restraints. Also, mobility equipment can sustain damage if it is not properly stored or secured in the vehicle. Safe transport for inmates who use manual or power wheelchairs might require the correctional facility to make minor modifications to existing cars or vans, or to use lift-equipped vans or buses.” I am aware of an incident where a law enforcement agency did not provide an accessible transport wagon for a physically disabled man even though one was requested by the arresting officer and one was available. Instead, the wagon driver picked up the man out of his wheelchair and placed him on the floor of a regular transport wagon, not knowing if the man had the trunk control or ability to hold himself in an upright position while being transported to the jail. This could have ended in catastrophic results for the disabled prisoner, and could have been avoided if the agency would have followed their policy to provide a wheelchair accessible transport wagon. This is a violation of the persons rights.

Public Transportation

Public transportation has come a long way for people with disabilities. However, there are still many things that people with disabilities are excluded from, or have to take many risks to travel. Some people with disabilities travel all over the world. A blog created by a man named Cory Lee called “Curb Free with Cory Lee has grown into an international sensation amongst the disabled community. He travels all over the world, and has recently met his goal of traveling to all seven continents. He is featured in travel magazines, and he provides tips and tricks for traveling as a wheelchair user. However, with all his knowledge and experience, he too has had his setbacks. He has talked about how his wheelchair has been damaged due to mishandling by flight crew, not as accessible hotel rooms, and most recently he discussed his inability to leave his cruise ship when it did not dock at a port because the cruise line did not have accessible transport boats to the docking area. Although he takes these setbacks with grace and dignity, wouldn’t it be great for a person with a physical disability to be able to travel without all these concerns?

Cory Lee looking out at the port that he cannot access from his cruise ship. He was unable to access three ports in Chile: Puerto Chacabuco, Castro, and Puerto Montt.

Another popular couple on social media is Shane Burcaw and Hannah Aylward, who have a YouTube channel called “Squirmy and Grubbs. Shane is also the author of two books about his disability, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). They talk in their videos about complications they have come across when trying to visit Hannah’s family overseas, and how airlines stated they could not accommodate his wheelchair in their plane’s cargo area. They discuss what they have to go through to make their own “booster seat” for Shane while flying because he is unable to safely sit in a regular airplane seat. They talk about the inaccessibility in other countries, and their adventures on trying to navigate a city that is not accommodating to his wheelchair.

Shane Burcaw in his homemade air travel booster seat in order to travel overseas to visit his girlfriend’s family.

Hundreds of wheelchairs are damaged by airlines every month, and thousands are damaged quarterly. A fairly new FAA Reauthorization Act has made an attempt to rectify some of the issues by requiring airlines to train their employees on proper wheelchair handling, requiring them to look into alternatives to wheelchair travel including making air travel wheelchair accessible, as well as requiring them to report any mishandled or broken wheelchairs or accessibility equipment and make that report available to the public. In one quarter, it was reported that 2,033 wheelchairs were lost or damaged in a commercial flight. Currently, wheelchair users are many times subjected to using uncomfortable aisle chairs to be transported to their seats, and once there they are subject to potential injury when being transferred to a seat due to inadequate accommodations or undertrained staff. If their wheelchair is damaged in flight, they are sometimes subjected to embarrassing transport through the airport in the uncomfortable aisle transport chair.

An organization called All Wheels Up is trying to change the face of air travel for wheelchair users by proving that it is possible for wheelchair users to safely remain in their wheelchairs during the flight. This would eliminate multiple problems wheelchair users face when traveling by air, but this is a long way from coming to a reality.

One of All Wheels Up Proposed Solution for Wheelchair Accessible Air Travel

Air travel is just one obstacle that wheelchair users and people with mobility aides have to worry about. If the person is unable to drive, they must rely on public transportation or ride shares such as Uber or Lift. Many times there are no wheelchair accessible options for ride shares, and there have been some lawsuits regarding this issue with Uber and Lift. These ride share companies have made some strides to help rectify the issue, but more work needs to be done to make these services accessible to all. Many times people are reduced to taking taxis that are more expensive, or using public transportation that may or may not have an accessible seat available.

People who can drive, or have the ability to purchase a vehicle, may require multiple modifications on their vehicle depending on their needs. These modifications are often so expensive that the person is reduced to starting a funding campaign just to be independent. For myself, I use a power wheelchair requiring the use of a modified van with a ramp. A vehicle that costs roughly $18,000 or $19,000 unmodified now costs $42,000 with basic modifications. In order to ride safely in my wheelchair, or to safely secure the chair in the vehicle independently, we were required to purchase a locking system that cost an additional $2,500. Adapted vehicles are very expensive, and if you require the use of hand controls you are looking at an additional cost from $1,500 up to $10,000 or more depending on your specific needs. We need to make these vehicles more affordable for people with disabilities who are many times on a limited, fixed income due to the disproportionate number of people with disabilities being able to work. If someone is able to purchase such a vehicle, they are then subject to discrimination by others parking illegally in accessible spots, or parking over the wheelchair access aisle preventing them from being able to deploy their ramp and get on or off of it with their wheelchair.

Bottom Line

People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, but we have the smallest voice. We are not represented in the government as prevalently as other minorities. We don’t have the power to change things without government backing, but it is difficult to get things to change when we are not represented in the government. We are making small strides toward change. People are starting to speak out about disability discrimination. However, until we have the full support of the government to implement better policies to ensure full inclusion, accessibility, and education we will continue to be the largest minority with the least amount of attention.

7 thoughts on “People with Disabilities: The World’s Largest Minority with the Least Amount of Attention”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Thank you so much for bringing attention to something that has gone unaddressed for so long! This was something I never could understand either. It is as if those who are disabled aren’t seen as human and it’s a shame!

    Although we’re making baby steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go before those with disabilities get a fair shake and it is so long overdo!

    This is a wonderful article and I thank you so much for speaking out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. It is deplorable the way people with disabilities have been treated over time, and I’m glad it’s getting better, but we have a long way to go.

      I recommend watching Crip Camp on Netflix if you haven’t seen it yet and have the opportunity. It sheds a lot of light on what people with disabilities went through to fight for our current rights.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s wonderful!!! It was #1 on Netflix at one point. It really shows the struggle those with disabilities had before certain rights were provided to us. Of course we still have work to do because the ADA is far from perfect, but it really helps to understand what people went through to get us to where we are today. I have so much respect and gratitude toward them, and it really puts things in perspective. Definitely worth the watch!

        Liked by 1 person

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