On July 26th 2010, disability advocates and leaders across the United States celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ADA. The ADA called for equal access for people with disabilities in five areas:
1) Employment-Title I
2) Public Entities-Title II
3) Private Sector-Title III
4) Telecommunications-Title IV.
Here is a 2010 Quality of Life survey conducted by the National Organization on Disability and the Kessler Foundation on a national cross section of 1,001 adults with disabilities and 788 adults without disabilities: (http://www.2010disabilitysurveys.org).
Employment represents the largest gap between the two groups. Of all working-age people with disabilities, only 21% say that they are employed, compared to 59% of people without disabilities – a gap of 38 percentage points. People with disabilities are still much more likely to be living in poverty. People with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to socialize with friends, relatives or neighbors, once again suggesting that there are significant barriers to participation in leisure activities for this population. The second-largest gap between people with and without disabilities is regarding Internet access. 85% of adults without disabilities access the Internet, whereas only 54% of adults with disabilities report the same – a gap of 31 percentage points.
How does this study apply for the counseling profession? Looking at the dismal statistics for persons with disabilities living in poverty; being isolated; unemployed and having less access to the internet than their able-bodied counterparts, it is likely that they may be more be proned to the symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and agitation.
What can counselors do to promote equality for persons with disabilities?
1) Counselors can promote for equal access by advocating on a systems level which involves working with groups and coalitions on either or both on a local, state or federal levels. I have worked with different coalitions when I worked for an independent living agency to promote services and programs for persons with disabilities on all levels. I learned how to use talking points with politicians and public officials to address their needs and to promote both the spirit and letter of the ADA laws. I am presently a volunteer member of a local grassroots advocacy group where our efforts resulted in two accessible taxicabs being available, after a ten year battle, for persons with disabilities to use 24-7. The slogan, “You can’t fight City Hall,” was debunked as my group worked with Legal Aid and other advocates to win the battle in 2005. Also, our group is making efforts to promote equal access from a public transportation system.
2) Counselor can provide individual counseling to persons with disabilities by being culturally competent in disability language and understanding. Unfortunately, Disability is not considered a cultural competence in the Healthcare field. In Massachusetts, advocates are still advocating that “Disability” be considered a Cultural Disparity in the Department of Public Health arena by state legislation. Despite the politics, counselors still have an obligation to learn to be cultural competent in this area. Persons with disabilities are people first just like anyone else. Many get offended when they are looked as heroes or stories of inspiration by the able-bodied population. Here are a few resources to learn more about how to interact with persons with disabilities:
Free preview of four clips I produced on www.youtube.com/millerchat
1) How to Talk to Persons with Disabilities
2) Stereotypes, Perceptions, and Mythologies
3) Relationship and Disability Part I and II
4) Promoting Olmstead:The Need for Community Based Services.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.