*Attribution, respect and applause to #CriptheVote Disability Visibility Project community organizers and activists.
“[W]ork is a valued activity, both for individuals and society; and fulfills the need of an individual to be productive, promotes independence, enhances self-esteem, and allows for participation in the mainstream of life in America.” Rehabilitation Act of 1973
“Most of the fifty-six million Americans with disabilities who are working age long to
work. Yet people with disabilities unfailingly have had the highest rate of unemployment among all minority groups in America. For more than a decade, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities has been at staggering levels ranging from sixty-six to seventy-five percent. Given this high rate of unemployment, it is not surprising that one-third of all people with disabilities have annual incomes of $15,000 or less and are three times more likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities. As a result of pervasive poverty, discrimination, lack of access and abuse, people with disabilities are less likely than their able-bodied counterparts to go to restaurants, supermarkets, movies, malls, sporting events, attend religious services, socialize with friends, family and neighbors, or engage in politics. Given this lack of participation in the mainstream of life, only one out of three people with disabilities compared to three out of five of their “temporarily able-bodied” colleagues say they are very satisfied with their quality of life.
In short, federal employment strategies for people with disabilities do not seem to be working. Scholars argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation that exemplify the disability theory of “integrationism” with the goal of integrating people with disabilities into mainstream employment cannot succeed. Barriers to employment for people of disabilities cannot be eradicated simply by the integrationist modest approach of reasonable accommodation. A “post-integrationist” approach may be required to provide legitimate equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Through mainstream employment people with disabilities will participate more actively in critical aspects of life and begin to enjoy legitimate equality. Work provides the opportunity for self-sufficiency through wages, a productive role in society, enhanced self-esteem and self-worth, order, sources of friendship and social support. The day-to-day involvement of people with disabilities in the workplace and in life will break down societal stereotypes, ignorance, fear and prejudices. Society benefits from an expanded and more diverse workforce, consumer base, electorate, tax base, congregations and neighborhoods. Moreover, society would save billions or even trillions of dollars in cash benefits from self-supporting employment of people with disabilities. Most significantly, enabling work affirms our common humanity, citizenship and equality.”
I wrote these words in an article published in 2003 in the American University Law Review titled “Enabling Work for People with Disabilities: A Post Integrationist Revision of Underutilized Tax Incentives.” Tragically, not enough meaningful progress has been made in the last 15 years especially with skyrocketing income inequality and the Great Recession. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) appears to disproportionately hurt people with disabilities especially with respect to access to work tax benefits through the House Bill’s repeal of the individual itemized medical expense deduction, Disabled Access Credit (for small businesses), the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (for hiring certain people with disabilities) and the elimination of the additional standard deduction amount for blind individuals. While the Senate Bill currently preserves these tax credits and deductions it reduces some of the benefits with a curtailment of business credit carryforwards.
Nevertheless, there is some hope as Kimie Beverly, a current Government Affairs Specialist (and former William S. Boyd School of Law student) at the National Federation of the Blind has been working with more than 20 members of Congress (Rep. David Young (R- IA), plus 15 co-sponsors including Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Senators John Boozeman (R-AR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Christopher Coons (D-DE)) on a tax credit to provide access to technology for blind individuals through refundable individual income tax credits (H.R. 1734 and S. 732) “The Access Technology Affordability Act.”
The National Federation of the Blind explains that nearly 60% of blind Americans are unemployed, because, among other reasons, access technology is not affordable with costs ranging from $1,000 up to $6,000. For example, a screen reader is $900, a Braille note taker is $5,495, a refreshable Braille display is $2,795, and a moderately priced Braille embosser is $3,695. More on access technology resources are available at the National Federation of the Blind here. Most blind Americans do not have the financial resources needed to purchase this equipment. These basic access barriers disable rather than enable work leading to a loss of employment, insufficient education, and isolation from community activities.
The Act provides a refundable tax credit for each blind individual for up to $2,500 (over three consecutive years) for monies invested in access technology. Thus, the credit merely reimburses blind individuals for out-of-pocket costs not otherwise covered by insurance or an employer or an educational institution. The credit is targeted to low- and middle-income blind individuals and their families so it phases-out $100 for every $1,000 (or part thereof) over $75,000 modified adjusted gross income ($150,000 for joint tax returns). Both the credit amount and the thresholds are indexed annually for inflation so that they do not fall behind increasing dollar values, By empowering blind individuals with a tax subsidy they can buy, own, and use the equipment to work and engage in a fuller and richer life.
From my currently-abled perspective this bill is a slam dunk!