As I write this I am on my way home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with my mother. It is times like this that you are given to ponder over what we should be thankful for. As a person with a disability I am thankful that I have a good job, a home, health insurance, a reliable car, a wonderful spouse, and good friends. These are the blessings that make a life full and joyous. These are also the things that many people with disabilities want for. People with disabilities still face barriers to stable, fulfilling and competitive employment. From discrimination in the hiring process to lack of reasonable accommodations on the job, people with disabilities find themselves either underemployed or unemployed.
There are barriers to affordable housing, from lack of available homes to landlords that do not accept housing subsidies. This year we worked diligently to pass the Fair Housing Act Amendment. This legislation would have removed discrimination based on source of income. Removing this significant barrier will open more housing options to people with disabilities in the rental market. Currently many accessible rental units remain unoccupied by people who really need them.
There are significant issues facing people with disabilities in the area of affordable health insurance. The continuing rising cost of insurance for people with pre existing medical conditions prices many out of the market. Thankfully, the General Assembly passed legislation this session to establish a high risk insurance pool to cover our most difficult to insure.
Transportation access is a continuous discussion, not only in the halls of the General Assembly but in the halls of Congress. People with disabilities require affordable, accessible and reliable transportation to successfully live in their chosen communities. Currently there are two legislative committees addressing transportation in the state of North Carolina.
Relationships, friendships are the threads of our community fabric. Recently, a wedding that I attended reminded me that not so long ago people with disabilities were often denied the right to wed. On this one beautiful day, two people with developmental disabilities were joined in marriage before their families and friends. A testament to how much has changed. But so much is still left to be done. Segregated class rooms, segregated schools often limited social interactions and limited the development of people with disabilities to form social and communal bonds. Today, thankfully many of these barriers have disappeared but not all.
Children with disabilities in our schools are often ending up in the most restrictive academic setting limiting their ability to socialize with their peers. This has to change. This year the General Assembly passed the Disability History and Awareness Bill. This bill created by young leaders with disabilities designated October as Disability History and Awareness Month and required schools to integrated disability history and culture into their curricula. The intent of this legislation is to highlight the contributions of the disability community to society and to open the door to a better cultural understanding of what “disability” is.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we are truly thankful for. To the many leaders in the General Assembly who lead on the important issues that affect the disability community in North Carolina, we are thankful for your work and for the policy you helped pass. But, there is still much to be done.