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What is it that makes us complacent about true citizenship for people with disabilities? For years people with physical or intellectual disabilities have been seen through the eyes of a society that has always considered them as “less than,” indicating we will consider them separately. Many still believe people with intellectual or developmental disabilities can’t or shouldn’t volunteer, vote, go to college, hold a job, drive a car, live in their own home, get married and have a family. Maybe people are just trying to keep them safe, but think of what they are missing – a chance to explore and realize their dreams, leading to missed opportunities for everyone.
Lack of accurate information about disabilities creates stereotyping, which in turn creates lowered expectations and missed opportunities in school, the workplace and the community. Change can be difficult but it is necessary. “One of the most de-motivating things for human beings is uncertainty, and we avoid it at all costs. In fact, we will just do nothing if we’re not certain,” says Margaret King, the director of a Philadelphia think tank called the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, which studies the role of culture and human behavior in consumer choice. “We’re very, very hesitant to put resources at risk, and change is all about doing that.” From a scientific standpoint, Neuroscientist Dean Burnett’s book, “Idiot Brain,” addresses the ways our brains trip us up. “In an evolutionary sense, the brain doesn’t like uncertainty. Anything uncertain is potentially a threat,” Burnett says. Society appears reluctant to challenge the status quo instead of taking a risk to inspire social change.
Statistics show an overwhelming gap between the opportunities being offered to those with disabilities and typical children and adults. According to the following report, as of July 2017, these are the disability employment statistics:
Ages 16 years and over: Labor Force Participation
• People with disabilities: 20.8%
• People without disabilities: 69.2%

Work is being done to increase competitive employment for individuals with disabilities. This is a part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which will help job seekers access services they need to succeed and match employers with skilled workers.
Things are also changing in the area of education. Graduation rates for students with disabilities has increased significantly over the past 20 years, but work is needed to help students transition, moving from childhood to young adulthood, and from school to adult life. For students with disabilities (ages 14-21), the graduation rate with regular high school diploma was 64.6% in the 2014-2015 school year compared to 83.2% for all other students. More high school students with disabilities are planning to continue their education in post-secondary schools including vocational and career schools as well as two and four-year colleges and universities. The future is improving for these students, with transition services being implemented for those taking college courses as well as programs to prepare middle school students for high school, post-secondary education and employment after high school.

And yet, there is so much more to be done. We need to let go of outdated, pre-conceived notions, and work on creating a thriving, successful environment for everyone. We must start seeking out more information, so that we can start asking the right questions and become agents for change.
We all use some type of support system whether it is from co-workers, family, friends, educators, etc. Shouldn’t everyone have these same opportunities and be seen as a valuable member of our community? If our society is to move forward and really demonstrate true citizenship, we need to leave behind outdated ideology about individuals with disabilities and focus on them being an integral part of our everyday lives and community. Provided with a mixture of guidance, self-advocacy and determination, life is changing every day for the better for those with disabilities.
There are more amazing success stories being played out every day than we can mention here. Stories of people that have lived a portion of their lives thinking they would never be able to achieve their dreams. A beautiful example of what can happen with support and hard work is Amy. Over a period of time she has moved into her own apartment with minimal support, has taught a self-advocacy class, holds a full-time job in competitive employment and now has her driver’s permit. And oh my, that smile on her face – it was priceless! Something we all need every now and then – a reason to smile, tobe proud of our accomplishments and make a difference.

“Being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life.
— Emma Thompson

Resources: U.S. Dept. of Labor/Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) Source: CRS analysis using data from the U.S. Department of Education, EDFacts

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