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Background on Disability Rights

According to the National Organization on Disability, 54 million Americans have some form of disability. That’s nearly one in every five Americans. According to the 2010 Census, one in 12 children in the U.S. has a disability; that means 5.2 million American children have a mental or physical disability. When you factor in friends, families, and community members, the number of Americans affected by disability issues multiplies exponentially.

In the 1970s, a new movement modeled on earlier civil rights struggles arose among individuals with disabilities. The disability rights movement challenged myths and stereotypes that inaccurately portray people with disabilities as unemployable, incapable of succeeding in school or unable to become contributing members of society.

There has been progress; the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was an enormous leap toward civil rights for people with disabilities and remains a vital part of ensuring disabled Americans are able to participate more fully in our communities. But the ADA is not enough. Recent Supreme Court decisions have limited the protections offered by the ADA and as technology changes or improves there are ever more opportunities to create equality. Furthermore, particularly in employment opportunities people with disabilities are frequently the victims of discrimination and often ignored as potential employees.

People with disabilities still lag behind the national average in education completed, employment rates (which are double the national average), income, technology access, homeownership and voter participation. This is both a cause and an effect of unequal access to transportation, technology, health care, education, affordable housing, community involvement, and independent living. These issues all factors into the high poverty rate for people with disabilities (that rate is 26%, more than twice the national average).

As Americans and members of the Jewish community we must continue our support for disability rights by educating our communities, ensuring accessibility in our synagogues and services, supporting disability rights legislation and demanding enforcement of existing legislation.