Social Inequalities Based on Disability
‘Peopk with visible disabilities are often the objects of prejudice and discrimination. which interfere with their everyday life. For example, Marylou Breslin. executive director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, was wearing a businesswoman’s suit. sitting at the airport in her battery-powered wheelchair. and drinking a cup of coffee while waiting for a plane. A woman walked by and plunked a coin in the coffee cup that Breslin held in her hand, splashing
coffee on Breslin’s blouse (Shapiro. 1993). Why did the woman drop the coin in Breslin’s cup? The answer to this question is found in stereotypes built on lackof knowledge about or exaggeration of the characteristics of people with a disability. Some stereotypes project the image that persons with disabilities arc deformed individuals who may also be horrible deviants.
For example. slasher movies such as the Nightmare Oil Elm Strut series show a villain who was turned into a hateful. sadistic killer because of disfigurement resulting from a fire. Lighter fare such as the BIltmll1l movies depict villains as individuals with disabilities: the Joker. disfigured by a fall into a vat of acid. and the
Penguin, horn with flippers inste d of arms (Shapiro, 1993). Other stereotypes show persons with disabilities as pathetic individuals to be pitied. Fund-raising activities hy many charitable organizations-such as “poster child” campaigns showing a photograph of a friendly-looking child with a visible disability-sometimes contribute to tbis perception. Even apparently positive stereotypes become harmful to people with a disability. An example is what some disabled persons refer to as “supercrips” -people with severe disabilities who seem to excel despite the impairment and who
receive widespread press coverage in the process. Disability rights advocates note that such stereotypes do not reflect the day-to-day reality of most persons with disabilities, who must struggle constantly with smaller challenges (Shapi ro, 1993). Today. many working-age persons with a disability in the United States are unemployed (see “Census Profiles: Disability and Employment Status”). Most of them believe that they could and would work if offered the opportunity. However, even when persons with a severe disability are able to find jobs. they typically earn less than persons without a disability (Yelin, 1992). On average, workers with a severe disability make 59 percent of what their co-workers without disabilities earn. and the gap is growing (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). The problem has been particularly severe for African Americans and Latinos/as with disabilities, Among Latinos/as with a severe disability. only 26 percent are employed; those who work earn 80 percent of what white (non-Latino) persons with a severe disability earn.
Employment, poverty, and disability arc related. On the one hand, people may become economically disadvantaged as a result of chronic illness or disability. On
the other hand. poor people are less likely to be educated and more likely to be malnourished and have inadequate access to health care-all of which contribute to risk of chronic illness. physical and mental disability. and the inability to participate in the labor force. In addition. the type of employment available ‘to people with limited resources increases their chances or becoming disabled. They may work in hazardous places such as mines, factory assembly lines. and chemical plants. or in the construction industry. where the chance of becoming seriously disabled is much higher (Brecht, 1992). Generalizations about the relationship between disability and income are difficult to make for at least three reasons. First. most research on disability is organized around specific conditions or impairments. making it problematic to reach conclusions about how much .