Disability Advocates Push Back Against Wage Limits

More than a generation after the historic American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, disability advocates are still fighting for what they deem is a level playing field in the workplace. According to the American Institute for Research, based on the US Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, workers with disabilities make 64 cents for every dollar made by their non-disabled colleagues with an equivalent education.

This puts the disabled workers in an interesting dilemma: they have to balance obtaining the best job they possibly can get while ensuring they don’t make enough money to disqualify themselves from federal medical assistance. For example, 31-year-old Josie Badger of Ohio Township, PA, is dependent on a ventilator and around the clock medical assistance. However, this non-profit creator needs to make less than $1,040 a month to keep these benefits.

Badger, the manager of the #iwanttowork campaign, makes a career of turning the policy of the ADA into a reality. #iwanttowork is a national advocacy group aiming to “ensure young adults with disabilities get the employment opportunities they rightfully deserve so they can live full, independent lives.”

Their recent work includes supporting Pennsylvania House Bill HB400, or the Work Experience For High School Students With Disabilities Act, which would incorporate career-building programs into the public school curriculum.

“Vocational Rehabilitation shall provide information for the development of individual education plans for high school students with disabilities ensuring that job skill training is included in the plans when appropriate,” the bill states, “and shall arrange for work-based learning experiences, which may include in-school or after-school opportunities or experience outside the traditional school setting, including internships, at competitive wages in integrated settings with public or private sector employers.”

By pushing this bill, Badger is fighting for the insurance that future people with disabilities who enter the workforce will not have to face the same problem she does. But currently, the fact is the majority of people with disabilities do have to watch what they earn in fear of losing much-needed government subsidies.

The process of digesting the guidelines for income limits is an obstacle in itself. In order to qualify, your income must be below the federal benefit rate, but if you earn money at work, not all of it is counted against that rate, and if you set aside funds in order to help yourself get back to work, that also is not counted. If you earn more than $1,090 a month, you are considered to be engaging in “substantial gaining activity.” This is all before adding in the effects of the earnings of your family and spouse.

With more and more people with disabilities attending college, this problem is only going to get bigger. People like Badger are trying to save the American taxpayers millions of dollars by enabling people with disabilities to gain real world experience, cultivate necessary skills and build valuable connections they would need to be self-reliant, productive citizens.

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