Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated that as a part of reducing the budget of the Education Department, the federal government would cut $17.6 million from the Special Olympics.  Last Thursday, President Donald Trump said that he reversed DeVos’s proposal and that Special Olympics funding would remain intact.  Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., head of the subcommittee on Education Department funding, stated that he would not have approved DeVos’ original proposed cut.

Republicans and Democrats alike criticized DeVos for her budget proposal, illustrating a shared objective of protecting programs that serve people with disabilities.  While this example offers a rare and tangible glimpse at bipartisanship in America, other issues within the disability community remain on which both parties could collaborate.  I’d like to call attention to a topic that merits priority in order to advance a minority population and to act as a catalyst for bilateral legislation.

According to the Department of Labor, unemployment for Americans with disabilities hit its lowest rate in a decade at eight percent last year.  However, people with disabilities were most likely to find employment in public-sector, low wage and self-employed positions.  

While the federal government does have programs that recruit people with disabilities, limiting the population to that sector does not maximize their potential.  Not only do people with disabilities possess valuable skills for the private sector workforce, but they demonstrate a high motivation to work.  In 2018, 10.2 percent of people with disabilities were self employed while 6.1 percent of people without disabilities were self employed.  Despite this active demonstration of motivation and desire to work, people with disabilities work in lower-wage jobs including maintenance, transportation and office administration.

Working in such lower-wage positions qualifies as dignified, worthwhile employment, but people with disabilities should also have the opportunity to earn higher wages in other divisions.   People with disabilities demonstrate a need and desire to work that can benefit the private sector, healthcare and other fields.  It is important for people with disabilities to have access to diverse employment not only for their own prosperity, but also for the good of the economy.  If people with disabilities have more opportunity to work and become self-sustainable, all Americans will benefit because less government funding would be needed to fully support people with disabilities.

In order to equip people with disabilities for advanced work, education remains of utmost necessity.  Not only do people with disabilities require individualized programs at school, but they do not always have ready access to extracurricular activities like sports and music due to inadequate staffing and resources.  Thus, programs like Special Olympics warrant priority in the Department of Education to provide times for physical activity, teamwork and confidence building into the daily life of people with disabilities.  Such experiences can then translate into an increased readiness to enter into a variety of workforces. 

People with disabilities remain a vital population that offer various talents to the labor force.  In a political climate that yearns for cooperation between rival parties, looking for ways to diversify the labor options for people with disabilities offers a suitable project.  The incident with the Special Olympics funding accentuates that bipartisanship is still possible in America, and that directing its strength toward supporting people with disabilities promotes the well-being of all Americans.

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