Reflecting on the American with Disabilities Act after 25 years

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act made discrimination against people with disabilities illegal and ensured that the proper accommodations are made for people with disabilities in employment, government services, public and commercial facilities, and transportation. People with disabilities make up about 20 percent of the United States population, according to 2012 census data. The ADA has made it easier for people with disabilities to live their lives and be self-sufficient, but the battle for full economic inclusion is ongoing. 

Recent legislation continues to expand economic opportunities for people with disabilities. President Barack Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) into law in December 2014. Governor Bruce Rauner then signed a law enabling the federal ABLE Act in Illinois in July 2015. This act expands financial autonomy for people with disabilities by providing them and their families and caretakers access to tax-exempt savings accounts to cover expenses and ensures that people with disabilities can save for emergencies without losing access to public benefits.

While the ADA and ABLE Act have helped people with disabilities and their families, there are still many steps to take to ensure that people with disabilities have access to wealth-building opportunities. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) data, 46.5 percent of people with disabilities were either unbanked or underbanked in 2013. This means that about half of people with disabilities do not have a bank account at an insured institution, or they have accounts but still rely on alternative financial services providers such as check cashers and payday lenders. 

Finances are often a complicated issue for people with disabilities. According to Commissioner Karen Tamley of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the loss of means-tested public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) that occurs with full-time employment may pose challenges to economic security. Commissioner Tamley says that only 35 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed, a rate that has not changed much in the past 25 years. While ADA-modified transportation has made jobs more accessible, more work needs to be done to help people with disabilities move from reliance on public benefits to employment. The MOPD works with city departments to ensure that they are following ADA regulations. The office also offers direct services, including employment services, to people with disabilities.

"The Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities educates beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Income about available work incentives once they go to work. For instance, during a trial work period they can earn wages and still retain benefits." 

People with disabilities are still at a disadvantage when it comes to building wealth. Woodstock Institute applauds the passage of the ABLE Act, and strongly urges policymakers to continue to expand opportunities that help people with disabilities move into the workforce and build wealth. For more information on resources for people with disabilities, visit the MOPD website.