It is my belief that no group or individual benefits from segregation in any way, shape, or form. When I moved to Michigan, I was enlightened by my girlfriend with the practices of the school system she went to for K-12. Being from Ohio, I was mainstreamed into your average, every day high school. Granted, my high school experience was less than stellar, but I have come to realize that this really depends on how much the school is willing to do to assist its students with disabilities.

School systems get money from the government for every disabled student in their system. This means that every year, my school received money from the government to provide services that I needed such as a P.A. (personal assistant). A P.A. is used to assist with getting books from a locker or book bag, helping the student get their lunch, getting out all necessary supplies so the student is ready for class, and for some disabled people this may include having someone to write work while the student dictates what needs to be written.

My school was cheap and/or greedy. They took the money and left me to my own devices. I have friends throughout Ohio who did benefit from a caring school system that saw their needs were met and had a P.A. or whatever other services they might need. Regardless, being mainstreamed did help me in some way. I knew what it was like to interact with people not in wheelchairs. I dealt with discrimination and misunderstanding early on, and I learned to fight for my needs and rights as a human being because nothing was ever handed to me on a silver platter or given to me to pacify me.

I digress. This was a foreign concept to my girlfriend, Ashtyn. Not one disabled person attended her school, which was about five times bigger than my own, small community High School. As her mother said, they were all bused to the school suited for the disabled. There, they were segregated and got the services they needed. While it’s nice they received services all schools should have by default, the segregation part isn’t nice. How is a disabled person going to react in the real world, where not everybody is disabled, once school is over? Sheltering those with disabilities is not the way to guide them towards becoming successful, self-sufficient adults. In my opinion, this school district was just helping to add to a major problem plaguing the disabled community; unemployment.

I’m not just talking about people in wheelchairs either. The entire disabled populace (that’s a number in the millions here in America) has an unemployment rate estimated around 77%. This is not including those who are disabled and institutionalized due to lack of care available, which would allow these individuals to live independent lives. The problem is so bad that as much as 90% of those with disabilities are believed to live below the poverty level.

To understand this situation, first you have to understand why disabled people are unemployed in such large numbers. Workplace discrimination is still allowed based on disability. There is also no way of proving discrimination on the basis of disability unless an employer flat out says, “No Disabled Allowed” akin to the “No Irish Need Apply” of the 19th and early 20th century. Most employers are smart enough to keep such blatant discrimination to themselves. Nevertheless, it does happen, and without any way of protecting disabled employees, not much can be done about this.

Most workplaces aren’t geared towards the needs of an employee with a disability so often, it is just easier, to decline hiring one who may be highly qualified for a position. In many instances, the disabled individual may even be over qualified or better qualified than able-bodied counterparts, but the disability prevents them from getting the job. Quite often, people with disabilities have had to take advantage of the growing Internet and pave their own way by making their own companies, in order to be successful in the workforce.

This isn’t the real problem, though. The main problem is the fact that people with disabilities have to depend on government services to assist in the payment of things like wheelchairs, adaptive equipment, and other health care benefits and services. If the person does not have these things they can’t get around or function. Forget about working. Without health insurance a $10,000-$25,000 wheelchair (and trust me, for a power chair, that’s the average price for most) is unattainable. However, the government penalizes disabled employees who make what they deem as “too much” money and they start to lose services. For most, this can be as low as an extra $1400 before services start getting cut.

Without healthcare there is no option for someone with a disability so it is common for this person to have to quit their job or risk losing their insurance. Not everyone is lucky enough to have employers that offer insurance. For someone with a disability, this is often the case, so working is more harmful than being unemployed considering the detrimental affect the loss of services will have on the individual with a disability.

You’d think the solution would be as simple as Hillary Clinton says. Her goal is to remove this penalty so those with disabilities can keep their government benefits, like health insurance, and work at a job that is going to pay them enough to rise above the poverty level. That seems like the way to go, which brings me to how Barack Obama figures into this entire equation. I should say I’m pretty liberal. I believe in fair and equitable treatment for all minority groups. As a minority I have felt the pangs of discrimination and they are not pleasant. As someone who is also a minority, one would think that Mr. Obama would have a bit more compassion and understanding towards another minority group, but apparently he does not.

When asked about his solution towards the employment crisis in the disabled community, his response was to have more sheltered workshops. In a nice way, he was saying, let’s segregate the disabled populace and allow them to make less than they deserve, because that’s what sheltered workshops are all about. We need to point out the differences, pity the disabled and not give them any true career options while still penalizing them for making any money. Doesn’t he realize that the government benefits need to remain or no one will be able to take advantage of his sheltered workshops? Apparently not.

For those who do not know about what sheltered workshops are, let me explain. Basically, like the segregated school system in Michigan, people who have disabilities and are, as the government likes to call them, “disadvantaged” are employed by a sheltered workshop. This environment is made up of all kinds of “disadvantaged” employees. This way, those of us with disabilities cannot go around infecting the regular workforce with our willful ways. All of the folks with disabilities are said to work in less productive numbers than a normal workforce because less expectations are put on them. Therefore, companies that work with the sheltered workshops are willing to “take a cut” in order to accommodate the disadvantaged.

Ugh! I cannot even express how prejudicial and discriminatory these workshops are. They were started in the 1950s to get previously, locked in the backroom “gimpies” out of the house and into doing something productive. It’s an outdated practice for the 21st century yet the vast majority of governmental funds still go to these workshops despite the fact that they are unfair and not doing much to combat the unemployment rate afflicting the disability community.

Furthermore, sheltered workshops do not make those with disabilities productive. According to statistics on the differences between sheltered workshops and regular, mainstream employment, those with disabilities made over $150 more per week than those working through a sheltered workshop. Even those believed to be inferior mentally (due to Down Syndrome or another, similar condition) made as much as $100 more per week in the mainstream workforce. In all cases, those with disabilities were as qualified as their able-bodied workers and some were even over-qualified. Additionally, only 3.5% of those in sheltered workshops moved on into a mainstream job, which counters a popular argument in support of these workshops, which says they are a stepping stone for the disabled, towards being mainstream employed.

So, this is the solution by Barack Obama? I know he happened to be over in Indonesia during the height of the Civil Rights movement, but how can anyone who quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. be so willing to segregate anyone? I know that he thinks his solution is beneficial for the disabled, but it’s not. It shows a lack of forethought, knowledge of the subject, and a discriminatory nature. This is just one reason why, I will never vote for Barack Obama, and why you should consider looking over his other policies towards minorities, the economy, the war, and other topics of interest to the American public. He talks a big game, but in truth, he’s all bark and no bite.

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