Poverty & Disability Often Go Hand in Hand

from the National Disability Institute

Nearly 1 in 3 individuals with disabilities lives in poverty, and even worse, the disability-poverty rate is twice the rate of that for individuals without disabilities.

Families of a child with a significant disability also report higher rates of poverty because of health care and therapy expenses, as well as having the ability to work a flexible job that allows them to also care for that child. They are also are much more likely to experience material hardships like food insecurity; inability to pay rent, mortgage, and utilities; or not being able to get needed medical care.

A disability can cause poverty: it can lead to challenges like job loss & reduced earnings, barriers to education& skills development and significant additional expenses.

A disability is also a consequence of poverty: It can limit access to health care & preventive services, and increase the likelihood of living and working in an environment that may adversely affect health.

Millions are caught in this endless cycle, but the connection between disability and poverty is rarely discussed. The poverty rate for adults with disabilities was 28.4% in 2013, compared to 12.4% for those without disabilities.

Of course, progress has been made:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act: Prohibits discrimination based on disability and guarantees equal opportunity to participate in American life.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Requires that students with disabilities be provided a “free, appropriate public education” like all students.
  • The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Expands access to education & training programs, transition programs for youth from the classroom to adult life, vocational rehabilitation, and more.

However, much work remains. To break the link between poverty and disability, disability must be included as part of the broader antipoverty agenda, not as a separate issue or afterthought.