Americans with disabilities are not traditionally a heavily courted constituency during presidential election years. Just as in many other aspects of society, it can be all too easy to overlook or attempt to minimize the scores of millions who live with disabilities. Morally, that is insulting. Politically, it's just stupid, given that there will be about 35 million American voters have disabilities. But yesterday, Hillary Clinton made an emphatic case for full inclusion of people with disabilities while asking for their votes. Setting the politics of the speech aside, should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, her policy proposals for Americans with disabilities could fundamentally alter the financial security of millions of American families.
She called for an end to the sub-minimum wage, which would allow millions with disabilities to earn real, even living, incomes and achieve greater independence. It would also create new financial concerns that professionals must address for workers who cannot effectively manage their own money. The Fair Labor Standards Act currently allows for employers to pay wages below the Federal minimum wage to workers who have disabilities. The amount actually paid to disabled workers varies greatly, as it depends on how an employer assesses one's abilities in comparison to nondisabled workers engaged in the same tasks. Thus, a worker with a disability could earn anywhere from 25 cents per hour up to the full minimum wage. It is nothing short of exploitive.
Coupled with ABLE accounts that are now available in several states, paying Americans with disabilities an equal wage means that many who were shut out of any semblance of financial independence may soon have an opportunity to earn a living, continue to receive necessary government benefits, and have access to funds in a managed way. The former secretary of state outlined a plan for Americans with disabilities that went beyond wage issues. She talked about her vision for a fully inclusive society and economy that includes more educational opportunities. In turn, what could happen is not only an increase in the wages paid to those who are working, but a higher percentage of Americans with disabilities working at all.
If enacted, these policies could be game changers for the American economy and for millions who live with disabilities. Economic inclusion and financial security can be attainable, but it's going to require sweeping policy changes like those Mrs. Clinton discussed yesterday. As Clinton said in Orlando yesterday, people with disabilities often tell her "we don't want pity, we want paychecks." More paychecks with real wages can lead to a new level of financial security. In the interest of fairness, there are no comparisons that can be made to the proposals of her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has never discussed policies regarding disability rights.
The full speech can be viewed here, via the local NBC affiliate.
Adam Beck is the director of The American College MassMutual Center for Special Needs and an assistant professor of health insurance