The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Has the American dream become disabled?

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, a popular historian, coined the phrase “American dream” in his book “The Epic of America.”  He defined America’s dream as a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens.

For Americans with disabilities, however, achieving this dream is nearly impossible.  According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, 78 percent of people with disabilities remain unemployed.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Vocational Rehabilitation program exists to guarantee equal access to employment for equally qualified individuals. However, the programs do not address the attitude of many employers.

“The major drawback in almost every employment-related program is that the focus is not placed on educating the employers,” said Jim Whalen, executive director of the Adaptables, a Center for Independent Living in Winston-Salem. “In today’s era of technology and workplace variety, it is truly employer and co-worker attitudes that create the ‘real’ barriers.”

In addition to workplace inadequacies, the government’s position on disabilities is also out of date.

As a Social Security Income recipient, I know the program is designed to help support people with disabilities in times when they cannot work. But in reality, people can only qualify for SSI if they are impoverished.

For instance, when I get a job, I lose all my government support, including access to health care.  These are disincentives to work. I am not alone in this difficult situation. Most people with disabilities share this experience.

The New York Times reported the example of Mr. Crelia, an SSI recipient who wants to work. A recipient of $506 monthly from the SSI program, he is allowed to earn $85 through work, while also receiving some assistance toward his rent and food expenses. If he surpasses the $85, his check is reduced by $1 for every $2 he earns.

If his income reaches $1,097 a month, he will no longer be eligible for any cash SSI benefits at all. So he must be poor, or he must give up all government support. Mr. Crelia is never permitted to have more than $2,000 in the bank. This restriction places the trappings of a middle-class life — a car, a modest home, a family — far out of reach.

So where is his American dream?

It makes no sense for Americans to continue in this system.

“If you went to an employer and said, ‘We have a group of people who are well trained, often pre-screened, used to working collaboratively as well as showing creativity in getting things done — but you cannot hire any of them,’” Whalen asked, “How do you think employers would react? In short, in a competitive marketplace we cannot afford to discount any resource.”

In many ways, I and many other people with disabilities represent the American dream.

I have been in some form of school since the age of two, improving myself through education. I have won numerous scholarships over the course of my academic career. I have earned a chance to have a job and be a productive member of American society.

However, the current system prevents me from working and having a savings account, things non-disabled people do not have second thoughts about. These two things are essential elements of achieving the American dream.

And everyone deserves the same chance to achieve the American dream.

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