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How Ableism Contributes to Poverty

Editor's Note

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Being disabled is not a choice. It’s a hurdle you must work to overcome and a reminder that life isn’t easy or fair. But I believe it’s also character building. In a society that doesn’t readily facilitate your needs, you tend to become adaptable and mature. Suffering often leads to inspiration, and being on the outside gives you a unique perspective on the world. Progress comes from thinking outside the box.

Employers often look for the ability to overcome adversity. They want individuals who are positive, motivated and resilient. They want the skills and traits disabled people develop to survive. So why are nearly 60 percent of disabled people in the United States unemployed, more than double the rate of non-disabled people? Why do we have to apply to 60 percent more jobs on average to get employment?

Disabled people are repeatedly painted as a burden on society while our unique abilities are ignored. Throughout history our rights have been disregarded and our opportunities restricted. The dangerous ableist narrative that we are useless creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that traps people who stand out from the crowd and makes them suffer for not being “normal.” Even now in the 21st century, while other minorities are finally becoming empowered, we are still being misrepresented. Even in the wealthiest nations such as the self-proclaimed “progressive” West, we suffer a disproportionate amount due to austerity measures.

Take the U.K. for example. It is the world’s fifth largest economy and London is a global financial hub. It has the economic resources and the capabilities to transform the lives of disabled people, but instead the government repeatedly makes political decisions that benefit the wealthy and neglect vulnerable groups. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, disabled families are now worse off by more than 30 percent of their annual net income. An inquiry undertaken by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities found “evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of persons with disabilities” in the U.K.

Currently a fifth of the U.K. population lives in poverty and almost half of these people are from families which include somebody with a disability. That is 6.9 million people who not only have to deal with the hardships that come with disability, but are also struggling to pay their bills and get their next meal. The government is turning a hurdle into an unassailable mountain.

A condemning 24-page report on extreme poverty in the U.K. (which will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next year) highlights how dire things have become for all vulnerable groups in the U.K. While the richest have received tax cuts since 2010, councils have reported reducing their welfare-related expenditures by 72.5 percent between 2013 and 2018.

With Brexit on the horizon, things are unlikely to get better anytime soon. On top of this, little solace can be found across the pond where the president grabs women and openly mocks disabled people. It is increasingly obvious to me that the only way things are going to change is if we make the change happen.

Professor Philip Alston, who wrote the U.N. report said, “poverty is a political choice.” Last time I checked, we live in a democracy so we should be able to demand a different political choice. Approximately 15 percent of the world population is disabled. That’s more than enough people to influence society into adopting more progressive, inclusive policies. It is time for us to find our voices. United we can change the story and show the world how great we are. Together, I believe we can turn the tables for every exploited minority group.

Getty image by Oleg Elkov.

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