Disability in the United States
Americans with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. Although the US does not have universal healthcare, Americans with disabilities can generally find adequate levels of subsidized support from a variety of sources, generally at the regional level. While most rural areas — especially in the Great Plains region — have little or no government-organized medical support infrastructure for the permanently disabled indigent population, most major urban centers have healthcare systems. The rights of Americans with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
According to the Disability Status: 2000 - Census 2000 Brief approximately 20% of Americans have one or more diagnosed psychological or physical disability:
Census 2000 counted 49.7 million people with some type of long lasting condition or disability. They represented 19.3 percent of the 257.2 million people who were aged 5 and older in the civilian non-institutionalized population -- or nearly one person in five..."
The United States Census Bureau is legally charged with developing information on the type and prevalence of disability in the population. The primary purpose of collecting ACS data on disability is to help the US Congress determine the allocation of federal funds and inform policies. It is also used to identify the characteristics of the disabled population of the United States. Determining the number and geographical location of people with disabilities is crucial for policies aimed at providing services like public transportation.
ACS does not directly measure disability There are other smaller survey studies that provide some insight on disability in the US. While studies like the National Health Interview Survey the Health and Retirement Study, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study are used to infer valuable disability-related health characteristics in the US population. While responses to these items are commonly refer to as "disability", it could be argued the —it uses self- and proxy-reports to evaluate perceived ability to perform functional tasks. Existing publications have delineated details on the US population regarding disability by using information from the ACS. Publications have also outlined issues with disability data in the ACS. Research on disability continues to improve, and potential remedies are found for current methodological challenges. Because of the uniqueness, regarding federal funding and policy, researchers from various fields (e.g., sociology, epidemiology, and government) make wide use of ACS data to better understand disability in the US.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the African American community has the highest rate of disability in the United States at 20.8 percent, slightly higher than the overall disability rate of 19.4%. Given these statistics, it can be suggested that African Americans with disabilities experience the most severe underemployment, unemployment, and under education compared to other disability groups.
Investigations on the "poverty and disability nexus"  have consistently shown poverty and disability are correlated for all race-ethnic groups within the United States. Financial stability of people with disabilities would decrease the dependence on governmental support programs. Studies have been done with the U.S. Census Bureau data to examine the high prevalence of disabilities among welfare recipients. Thirteen percent of families with children under the age of 18, who are also receiving welfare benefits, had at least one child with a disability. Families with income below twice the poverty line were 50% more likely to have a child with a disability than those families with higher incomes. Children with disabilities from families with annual household incomes of higher than $50,000 were more likely to attend higher education.
Research suggests higher education does impact employment and income opportunities for people with disabilities. It is also noted near equivocal employment opportunities and salaries for people with disabilities to their peers without disabilities. While only one-fifth of people in the United States have at least a four-year college degree, some studies note possessing a four-year degree is the difference between absolute job security and joblessness.
Discrimination in employment
The US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all organizations that receive government funding to provide accessibility programs and services. A more recent law, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which came into effect in 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, or in the terms, conditions and privileges of employment. This includes organizations like retail businesses, movie theaters, and restaurants. They must make reasonable accommodation to people with different needs. Protection is extended to anyone with (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual, (B) a record of such an impairment, or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. The second and third criteria are seen as ensuring protection from unjust discrimination based on a perception of risk, just because someone has a record of impairment or appears to have a disability or illness (e.g. features which may be erroneously taken as signs of an illness). Employment protection laws make discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability illegal and may also require provision of reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodations includes changes in the physical environment like making facilities more accessible but also include increasing job flexibility like job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules or reassignment to vacant position. Though many hold attitudes that are more enlightened and informed than past years, the word “disability” carries few positive connotations for most employers. Negative attitudes by employers toward potential employees with disabilities can lead to misunderstanding and discrimination.
Social Security Administration
The US Social Security Administration (SSA), defines disability in terms of an individual's inability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA), by which it means “work paying minimum wage or better”. The agency pairs SGA with a list of medical conditions that qualify individuals for disability benefits.
The SSA makes available to disabled Americans two forms of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance, (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security pays disability benefits to citizens who have worked long enough and have a medical condition that has prevented them from working or is expected to prevent them from working for at least 12 months or end in death.
Before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed, children with disabilities were at-risk of not receiving a free, appropriate public education. For IDEA to apply, the child must first be determined to be able to benefit from public education. This benefit is not exclusively limited to school-aged children, but applies to children with disabilities from infancy.
Due to societal stigma of disability, children are sometimes treated like disabled children, and not included in activities in which other children were able to participate. Educators can hold students with disabilities to lower expectations, which impacts their future educational attainment.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the school district must provide every disabled child with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP is compiled by a team of school administrators and guardians, and may include a child advocate, counselors, occupational therapists, or other specialists. This team evaluates the goals for the child and determines what needs to be done in order for those goals to be met. Children with disabilities who do not have a parent or guardian advocating on their behalf are not as well served in the education system as their peers with parent or guardian advocates.
Transition preparation from K-12 education to post-secondary education or career was initially written into IDEA to begin at age 12, but in the existing law, transition preparation does not begin until age 16. While this law provides a maximum age at which to begin transition preparation, students with disabilities have been known to receive transition preparation at a younger age, as the states might mandate a younger age, or the IEP team might determine a younger age is appropriate to begin the transition preparation of the student. Some students with disabilities have noted not receiving any transition preparation at all. The transition services are to be designed to be results-oriented rather than outcome-oriented. This is to ensure the transition services are designed for the student's success. Students are intended to attend their transition planning meetings with the IEP, yet not all students do. Some do attend, yet generally not take a leadership role - only fourteen percent do. This places the students with a disability in a passive role instead of an agentic role in their own life plans. In a 2007 study of a higher education institution located in the Midwestern United States, it was found that one-third of students with disabilities felt their transition preparation was lacking. Many in this group were unaware of laws that pertained to disability and higher education. This leaves them without an understanding of their learning needs and unable to advocate for themselves.
Self-advocacy plays an important role in the success of students with disabilities in higher education. While examination of self-advocacy skills has been largely limited to the impact in academic settings, self-advocacy skills, or the lack thereof, do also impact non-academic situations. A 2004 study noted only 3 percent of students with disabilities had self-advocacy training. Students with disabilities who are confident about their disability identity and self-advocacy skills are more likely to disclose their disabilities and advocate for their needs when interacting with faculty and staff. Students with disabilities who were embarrassed of their disability identity and did not understand their needs as learners looked to faculty and staff for solutions to accommodation needs. Education helps students with disabilities learn self-advocacy skills that affect their ability to advocate for their health, insurance, and other needs.
In spite of IDEA and Section 504 providing support for education of people with disabilities, the educational outcomes of people with disabilities vary significantly from the outcomes of people without disabilities. After high school, a 2005 study found students with disabilities enroll in postsecondary education, whether college, technical school, or vocational school, at a rate of 46% compared to the rate of 63% for students without disabilities. This rate is up 23% since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed. Specifically to four-year degree granting higher education institutions, 27% of students with disabilities attend compared to 54% of students without disabilities. High school completion and postsecondary education enrollment vary per disability type.
Students with disabilities are responsible for advocating for their accommodations and needs as learners in higher education environments. Many higher education institutions have staff to work with students with disabilities on their accommodation requests. Higher education institutions do vary in process to obtain accommodations and accommodations provided. The staff members at the higher education institutions can recommend accommodations. The faculty members, however, may choose to vary or not implement the accommodations at all based upon concerns of weakening academic integrity of the course or risking the possibility of endless accommodation requests. When working with faculty members about accommodations, nearly half of the students with disabilities recalled receiving a negative response, while the other half felt their faculty members were accommodating.
It is illegal for California insurers to refuse to provide car insurance to properly licensed drivers solely because they have a disability. It is also illegal for them to refuse to provide car insurance "on the basis that the owner of the motor vehicle to be insured is blind," but they are allowed to exclude coverage for injuries and damages incurred while a blind unlicensed owner is actually operating the vehicle (the law is apparently structured to allow blind people to buy and insure cars which their friends, family, and caretakers can drive for them).
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