Originally published October 14, 2016 in the Asheville Citizen-Times
The disabled agenda includes preventing abuse, scams, other crime victimization, and in general dying prematurely, due to one’s disability. Many disabled people want work, which may sound dichotomous for some. As to employment inclusion, being disabled is partly about how the non-disabled include/exclude folks who are different than themselves. “Disability” is often forced eligibility category for public goods versus an opening for opportunity in the economy.
According to the U.S. Census, 42 percent of Asheville’s disabled live in poverty. The Asheville disabled population is as large or possibly larger than the African-Americans here. But the point should be attaining a more sustainable community, state, and nation. U.S. household wealth hit $88 trillion this year according to the Federal Reserve, so whose agenda goes first among those in the greatest need should not be a question. I do say Americans with disabilities should not be thrown away any more than other constituencies.
The Buncombe Court Complex processed more than 1,000 evictions each year since the N.C. courts began publishing eviction statistics. Most likely there are a large number of Americans with disabilities among these evictions. Also amongst the range of justice and equity issues on the disabled agenda is one I believe gets little or no attention is how the disabled are or are not utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in courtroom settings… and if not, why not. The ADA can’t be used to stop the administration of justice, but ADA-based court access matters and should be understood.
When it comes to politics and the nonprofit space, find out if your favorite leader is interested in people with disabilities (PwDs) and how that interest demonstrates, specifically. Hillary Clinton has submitted a questionnaire response to the disabled agenda organization RespectAbility USA. Donald Trump has not. I helped get the responses from former N.C. Rep. Deborah Ross and Sen. Richard Burr. But what about Buncombe politicians, civic and business leaders? How can Asheville be inclusive and progressive when Americans with disabilities seem to be treated like our internal hidden, undesirable cultural and economic refugees?
I suggest our politicians and other folks get as interested in what’s happening with Americans with disabilities living in Asheville and Buncombe as they are in foreign refugees. Of course PwDs are composed of all races, genders, sexual orientations and creeds. Yes, refugees include the disabled, but the answer to the refugee crisis is about making home nations more sustainable.
There were 1,704 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of disabled adults to Buncombe County Health and Human Services in 2015. Then there’s abuse of disabled children? I would bet that a large portion of the early preventable deaths in Buncombe pertain to PwDs… with ‘‘preventable’’ meaning a disability can be remedied to one degree or another versus being a cause of compound ailment via a range of environmental stressors — including cultural, political and economic alienation, and the outcome of destitution, poor health, regular suffering and death.
About 1.3 million North Carolina citizens have a disability, and many of the rest know an American with a disability. Burr and Gov. Pat McCrory have co-authored or enacted legislation like the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act that provide tax havens for PwDs. Of course the ABLE Act is only relevant if there is some disposable income to save involved.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention had a large number of PwDs on the stage. In contrast I have no clue how the NCLEG (ABLE Act excluded) and local politicians like the Buncombe commissioners, Mayor Esther Manheimer, the rest of Asheville City Council and public officials like City Manager Gary Jackson and County Manager Wanda Greene include PwDs. City of Asheville (COA) advertises a Mayor’s Committee for Citizens with Disabilities and an ADA compliance committee on their website. Gary points to the mayor’s committee as an example of engagement with PwDs. Those committees have not been active since at least 2013.
COA is developing an Office of Equity and Diversity. Apparently the benefits of this $433,000 program will be delivered exclusively based on race criteria. City Hall, that’s not good for our disabled citizens… of any color.
Grant Millin is the owner of InnovoGraph LLC, an Asheville management consulting firm, and is the developer of the nonprofit behind Sustain NC and North Carolina’s Smart Grid, Distributed Energy, and Efficiency Program (Smart Grid DEEP). This nonprofit features an initiative that helps develop, include and monitor progress on the PwD agenda. Grant’s biographical sketch: http://sustainnc.com/about. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org