Jewish Disability Awareness Month Logo February 2015

Removing the Stumbling Block of Economic Inequality



It is essential for activists who are passionate about disability rights to understand how many of the inequalities and hardships that people in America face uniquely impact people with disabilities. Twice as many people with disabilities as those without live in poverty and nearly 1 in 3 (or 29 percent of) individuals with disabilities live in poverty. Indeed, 45.3 million Americans lived in poverty in 2013, and individuals with disabilities are disproportionately represented in calculating the number of Americans currently living in poverty.

Although it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have a disability, the unemployment rate is nearly double for people with disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely to have limited opportunities to earn income. Furthermore, 17.6 percent of people with disabilities are employed compared to 64% of people without disabilities. Public assistance programs have asset limits on recipients as well, which place additional burdens on many people with disabilities.

Additionally, people with disabilities often face difficulty finding housing that is both affordable and accessible. In fiscal year 2010, over 10,000 fair housing discrimination complaints were filed and 48% of the 10,155 complaints filed with HUD and Fair Housing Assistant Program partner agencies were based on disability discrimination. HUD’s 2011 Fair Housing Report stated that the largest category of complaints was discrimination involving a person’s disability.

Our Jewish texts encourage us to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities: we are taught that “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus19:14). The economic inequality our country faces serves as just one example of the many stumbling blocks that people with disabilities disproportionately face. We are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine, or created in God’s image, and thus all people should be granted the same opportunities regardless of whether they have a disability. Just as our Jewish tradition calls on us to “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor, and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9), we must continue to use our voices to advocate for disability rights.

We have an obligation to advocate for people with disabilities and help them rise out of poverty. You can join us in our advocacy efforts by registering and attending Jewish Disability Advocacy Day on Wednesday, February 25 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 in the Capital Visitor’s Center. Registration costs $72 and includes a kosher breakfast and lunch. Registration must be completed by February 11.

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This blog is a part of the RAC’s special feature on the intersection of Jewish life, religion and practice and disability inclusion and rights during Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), which occurs every February. Read more of our blogs on JDAM.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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