There are many obstacles and issues that have made day-to-day living very challenging for individuals with disabilities for decades. Over the years, we have seen many positive changes, movements, and systems put in place that have improved the lives of individuals with disabilities in many ways. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 1973 Rehabilitation Act, Section 504, Section 508, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) has improved the lives of millions.
Still, we see many barriers and major issues with regards to policy, civil rights, access and integration. Although, we continue to see strides and continuous efforts in improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families, of the countless issues any one of us can name, these five issues seem to stand the test of time.
Although there are programs in place for offering advocacy training, guidance with navigating state programs and services, and resource support, the truth is it isn’t enough. For many families, practical support means adequate before and after school care for their child or teen with special needs. Many families are turned away from daycare programs, summer camps, and other off-school programs who don’t have appropriately trained staff or support for caring for special needs children/teens. These families struggle financially and are forced to downsize their homes, give up their careers and in some severe cases, place their child in residential placement. In home supports, such as nurses, respite care, and caregiver assistance who are experienced with health and behavior issues, are needed as well. Especially for the family dealing with urgent healthcare needs or severe behavioral issues (aggression, self-injurious behavior and destruction of property). Families should also be provided counseling by the state as part of their programs for helping parents and caregivers deal and cope with the stressful lives they experience. This type of support could help avoid the possibility of emotional or psychological breakdowns, as well as the need to consider residential placement for loved ones.
One of the greatest decisions’ parents make for their child with special needs is placement for educational settings. While I’m a firm believer of meaningful parent involvement and partnership approaches when it comes to academic planning, I know that there are just as many schools that struggle with providing students with disabilities a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as there are schools who do a fantastic job with their role in educating children. However, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) continues to get hit annually with financial reductions. The bottom line is schools need more funding and support. Teachers, Aides, Therapists, and all other faculty in special education need increases in pay and support in order to provide a quality education for our kids. Better and continued training is needed so educators can partner better with families when it comes to providing the appropriate support and accommodations needed by the student for achieving academic success. Many states are making changes for improving academic outcomes by changing their curriculum, diploma tracks and accountability systems for making sure students are learning and having the best educational outcome. However, even though graduation rates for students with disabilities continue to increase annually (US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics reported 65.5% of students with disabilities graduated in year 2015-2016), this student demographic continues to hold the lowest graduation rate.
This issue has received quite a bit of media attention lately, but it’s an issue that has stressed parents, caregivers, and educators for many years. Parents of special needs children who tend to wander know what it’s like to have a neighbor knock on the door at 6 am telling you they found your child walking along the middle of the street. While they were sleeping, their child got up and walked out of the house. Many families have invested in door and window chimes, alarm systems with cameras, and heavy-duty dead bolt locks (for which many of these savvy kids figure out anyway). Particularly in the autism community, 46% of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) wander and tragically, most drowning casualties are the result of wandering. Funding and support is needed for developing better response systems for schools when a child is first noticed as missing, and programs for teaching children with autism and varying special needs how to swim is crucial. Incidentally, drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism in Florida. At this time, HB 183 – Student Elopement needs your support to be passed. If you’re interested in supporting this effort, contact the Autism Society of Florida. They need your help reaching out to legislative representatives about this bill that is in the works now and is in need of your support!
Despite the landmark laws of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehab Acts, there is still significant barriers to the transportation services that are made available for members of the disability community. Transportation provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to be meaningful participants of their community. It empowers them to become more independent by giving them the ability to travel leisurely, get to their place employment, socialize with family and friends, and connect with their overall surroundings. This is an inherent right of all Americans. However, transportation proves to still be a daunting experience and seemingly impossible public service to access for many individuals with mobility issues and other significant disabilities.
Bridging the Employment Gap
According to the US Department of Labor, employment for individuals with disabilities increased from 18.7 percent in 2017 to 19.1 percent in 2018. And although this is certainly moving in the right direction, it still pales in comparison to individuals without disabilities of whom 65.9 percent were employed in 2018. Statistics reveal that individuals with disabilities are more likely to work part-time than individuals without disabilities. In 2018, individuals with disabilities were heavily employed in service industries (Supermarkets, Fast Food Restaurants, Factories, etc.), performing various entry level tasks – any way to get your foot in the door of your desired industry is a great thing. However, what are we really doing to discover, unlock or support the many talents individuals with disabilities have? Many individuals with disabilities have proven that their talents and abilities may go beyond bagging groceries. They just need help with identifying, building or expanding those skills. In addition to training programs (on disability sensitivity and workplace accommodations) and continued incentives for businesses hiring individuals with disabilities, more programs are needed across the country for identifying skill-sets that can be created, supported, and nurtured.
While there are many efforts being made in creating a more integrated society, we need to look further and deeper into these issues (among so many others), to think about how we can support individuals with disabilities and their families.
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Sincerely, Christine SensoryFriends
Author: Christine Goulbourne
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