The Employment Gap for People with Disabilities Is Too Wide

Ralph Yaniz avatar

by Ralph Yaniz |

forward, medicare, global accessibility, rights, accessibility improvements

The world of employment and disabilities is difficult for me to understand. Readers of my column have always been good about giving feedback. I’d love your input on this subject because it is so important. The numbers don’t make sense to me. As a society, we can do better for people with disabilities.

Let’s look at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For people without a disability under 65, about 74 percent are employed. But if you have a disability, that percentage drops to about 30 percent. I realize that there are many levels of disability and functioning. A sizable percentage of people may not be able to work because of their disability. But the disparity between the numbers is too high. Anyone with a disability who wants to work should be able to find meaningful employment.

I am most upset that society hasn’t done better at accommodating younger individuals. I was 47 when I started having symptoms of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy type 2L. Because this is a relatively milder form of muscular dystrophy, I was able to continue working for another decade. Those years were my most productive in terms of position and success. I believe that if my illness had manifested earlier I would not have had that opportunity.

One of the most positive experiences for me has been my work as a columnist for Bionews Services. I know of few organizations with such a large number of employees with disabilities. We bring substantial experience to many roles. I like the number of younger leaders who are emerging and doing great things. This type of model is an example of what we can do as a society to change the world.

Reading the government report further, I see that, “Persons with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than those with no disability.” The correlation is clear in the data: the higher the educational attainment, the stronger the employment possibility. This goes for people with and without a disability, and it tells me that we need to work at both ends of the disability and employment spectrum. Society must put more funding into education. We also need to come up with solutions for meaningful employment.

CNN ran a story last year that talked about the need to improve our employment track record for people with disabilities. It’s great for people with disabilities, but it is also great for society. We are essential to a society looking for talented and productive employees. I have little doubt that the disability community can be a positive mover in the economy. And this need will only grow.

In “Locked into Poverty,” S.I. Rosenbaum takes a broader look at issues related to disabilities. The article features Anna Landre, a college student with spinal muscular atrophy who took on the system so that she could accept a paid internship without losing her caregiving benefits. It speaks to the real and dramatic conundrum facing people with disabilities who seek higher education or employment.

I am asking for a societal focus on this issue. There are few win-win situations in life, and even fewer in politics. Many people can’t agree on some of the most basic tenets of society. But we can all agree that this is important and that it will bring greater economic power to society. I ask that our elected officials make this an important part of their agenda.

I would love to hear of the barriers — physical and societal — that people have faced when seeking employment. Let’s continue to shine as a community and do great things.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


JILL avatar


Hello ralph! Yes I agree with you 100%! The reason I never went for a job was because I had an externship through my college at the courthouse. I had stairs I had to go up and down. The elevator seemed to be broken often and it was a far walk anyway. So I struggled going up and down the stairs to do my job. Well I actually was called into the office one day and told I was too slow at my job. I was timid then so I didn't try to explain myself. I just got up and walked out.

Ralph Yaniz avatar

Ralph Yaniz

Jill, thanks for your comments. We need to keep fighting to change some of these things. That is what I want to focus on, and how we do that as a community. It sounds like you went through some difficult issues and that shouldn’t have happened.


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