This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
In New York City, we can thank the ADA for — among other things — curb cuts, Braille lettering at subway stations, closed captioning devices at movie theaters, wheelchair access to the top of the Empire State building and a disability unit at the Department of Education that investigates complaints of discrimination.
But data from a report by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), out Friday, suggests the city is lagging behind New York state and the nation when it comes to addressing the issues of education and poverty among people with disabilities.
The Education Gap
According to the report, only 66.4 percent of city residents with disabilities graduate from high school, compared to 83.5 percent of residents without disabilities. That puts the high school "diploma gap" between people with and people without disabilities at 17.1 percent, wider than the 14.9 percent gap at the state level and the 12.7 percent gap across the U.S.
Far fewer New Yorkers with disabilities, 16.4 percent, graduate from college. When you consider the graduation rate for New Yorkers without disabilities, 34.9 percent, the college "diploma gap" in the city is 18.5 percent, roughly six percentage points higher than the national gap.
[The map below, presented in CIDNY's report, shows the percentage of people with disabilities in each borough who have a college degree, as well as the gap between the rate at which people with disabilities and those without graduate from college.]
Education is especially important for people with disabilities, the report says, because it "has a significant impact on [their] employability and earnings...to a much greater extent than it has for people without disabilities."
The employment rates for people with hearing and cognitive disabilities in the city are indeed lower than those at the state and national levels. As a means of closing that gap, CIDNY's report recommends initiatives like making all public schools fully accessible for people with disabilities and launching programs for students with disabilities to get them admitted to college and succeed there.
The Poverty Gap
Here's the report statistic we find most striking: the percent of people with disabilities living in poverty is more than twice that of people without disabilities. The disparity of poverty rates between people with and without disabilities is greater in New York City (19.9 percent) than at the state (18.8 percent) or national levels (16 percent).
(This year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set the poverty line at an annual income of $24,250 for a family of four.)
How do we narrow that gap? CIDNY's suggestions include raising the minimum wage so entry-level workers with disabilities can earn a living wage and creating a city "utilization goal" that calls for employers to ensure that least 7 percent of their workforce qualifies as individuals with disabilities.
[The map below the poverty rate for people with disabilities by race/ethnicity.]