Andrew Zinn: '...Almost half are below the federal poverty level, making them the poorest minority in our country.'

Growing up is difficult for everyone. However, growing up as the brother of a man with cerebral palsy, which affects both his physical and mental ability, I was given a clear view of the issues regarding how much harder that is for people with disabilities.

We are all taught from a young age that we are living in a free country, but the last decade has proven that not every person is given this freedom equally. While this is often talked about in a racial context, the community of people with disabilities often go ignored and unnoticed.

The ostracization of this community starts from a young age. Governmental educational systems place people with severe disabilities in classrooms separate from the other students. This process limits the relational opportunities of people with disabilities, and I watched my brother grow up alone because he was not given the same opportunities for friendship that most of us experienced in school.

The relationships that people with disabilities lack show in national statistics. Suicide rates are highest among those with multiple sclerosis, people with spinal cord injuries and people with intellectual disabilities.

When dissatisfaction with life is reported among people with disabilities, it is not about reliance on machines or medication, but relationships and difficulties with finances. That is why I participate in Unified Sports with Pacific University, which is an organization that puts together sports teams where people with disabilities play with neurotypicals. It provides a social environment where people with disabilities can create relationships outside of their own families which they are so often limited to.

The best part is that it has low stakes. Anyone can join without sacrificing anything morally significant.

Another good option that I've participated in is church outreach directed at people with disabilities. While not all may agree with the theological and philosophical ideals of religion, the community it can provide for the lonely, especially people with disabilities, is immeasurable and should be a major focus for churches seeking to support their local communities.

But the inequity does not end with social ostracization. The 2015 U.S. Census found that the median earnings of people with disabilities was 70% less than that of their neurotypical counterparts. If that trend has carried to current day, median earnings for people with disabilities would be an annual income of $13,267 based on the median individual income from 2020.

For reference, the average yearly rent in Oregon is $13,320 for a one bedroom apartment and the federal poverty level is $12,400. That means that a little over half of all people with disabilities are unable to afford rent in Oregon, and that almost half are below the federal poverty level, making them the poorest minority in our country.

One solution to counteract this issue would be to create a system similar to Social Security or to encourage businesses to pay people with disabilities more by having the government lend support to those businesses.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Federal support for people with disabilities ends when they reach the age of 21. This means that once they graduate, their opportunities are not only limited by their physical or mental limitations, but also society's willingness to support them.

There is no immediate, end-all solution, but by reaching out and at least supporting people with disabilities socially, we help change the communal stigmas that result in their ostracization in the first place.

Andrew Zinn is an undergraduate student at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

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