Intern Perspectives on Poverty & Disability

Headshot of Mario in front of organization's banner The following blog post is by Mario Carter, an intern with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL). Nearing the end of his internship, Mario shares what he learned from several NCWD/Youth and IEL initiatives.    

One of the more devastating and oft-ignored effects of poverty has been its consequences on people with disabilities. According to statistics from the Department of Labor, “unemployment rates were higher for persons with a disability than for those with no disability among all educational attainment groups.” The study also cites data which shows how people with disabilities are faced with limited employment opportunities. They are also more likely to only have part-time employment or be self-employed. With such a dearth of opportunities, people with disabilities are often forced to live on government benefits which permeates a culture of dependence and prevents them from being able to thrive independently.

This is especially significant for youth with disabilities as they are at the precipice of transitioning to adulthood. Youth with disabilities are far more likely to be impacted by the disparities in education which prevent them from being able to secure quality employment. This can cause them to spend their lives in poverty. If they do manage to find work, it is often sub-minimum wage work and other low paying jobs which make it nearly impossible for them to transition to financial independence. For many people with disabilities, even if they do find employment, they are still in a vulnerable position because the jobs may not pay enough to allow them to be financially stable, but they could lose their benefits.

While there have been attempts at eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities, there have not been enough efforts at directly expanding employment opportunities for them. Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act which opened additional doors for people who have disabilities to education, adult-transition, and vocational rehabilitation programs. But of course, problems regarding employability remain persistent. Stereotypes regarding mental acuity and capability of performing the tasks of the job prevent people with disabilities from having the chance to demonstrate their abilities.

If people with disabilities are to enter the workforce, then they will need to be presented with legitimate opportunities. The Institute for Educational Leadership (NCWD/Youth’s host organization) has been a national leader in the effort to successfully transition youth with disabilities into the workforce. IEL was recently awarded a grant to administer technical assistance to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) systems in order to enhance programs and services that will help youth with disabilities in light of the changes to VR rooted in WIOA. NCWD/Youth’s Guideposts for Success serves as a blueprint for preparing youth for entering the workforce by emphasizing broad-based goals that can be used by policymakers and various state vocational rehabilitation officials. IEL has also done substantive work in the juvenile justice system through the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative. Youth who participate in the program meet with mentors regularly to construct a plan called the Individual Career Development Plan that will help transition them into the workforce and independence. The IEL has also produced literature such as Making The Right Turn and Paving the Way to Work which demonstrate how to expand employment opportunities for youth with disabilities and how to give them the tools to succeed.

With an open mind and greater support from institutions who are willing to engage youth with disabilities by offering opportunities, people with disabilities and those who have been involved in the juvenile justice system can thrive and become successful contributing members of society.

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