The struggle for economic equality has always been difficult for Americans relegated to the second tier of our economy based upon the bias of our political leaders and yes, their constituents. Yet, as always is celebrated this time of year, the great American experiment continues to demand that all men are created equal.
On June 11, 1963, President John Kennedy took up the issue of civil rights when he said, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.” A little more than a year later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act.
Twenty-seven years after President Kennedy’s comments, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, finally opening the door to people with disabilities. Twenty-three years later, people with disabilities still lag behind. In 2012, only 17.8 percent of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment ratio for persons without a disability was 63.9 percent.
Many people with disabilities, particularly those who pursued college and graduate degrees, are chronically underemployed and unemployed. They struggle to earn a viable living. Most are forced to rely on public assistance. The acceptance of public assistance becomes the bondage of disability.
On April 22, 2013, a bipartisan action by city leaders marked a significant milestone for people with disabilities in Indianapolis. Our elected leaders moved toward a commitment to fostering a climate of inclusion by creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities. Led by Council President Maggie Lewis and Vice President John Barth, the Council unanimously agreed to include the Disability Enterprise Category to the city’s contracting program. Mayor Greg Ballard signed it into law on May 2, 2013.
Because of their foresight, people with disabilities who own businesses now have the opportunity to join their counterparts – racial and ethnic minorities, women, and veterans – to participate in the process by which our local government has elected to diversify its contracts with vendors.
Our leaders in Indianapolis understand better than most that a common sense approach puts people with disabilities to work. All too often, we see partisan rancor at the federal and state level over the so-called “entitlement programs,” that millions of Americans with disabilities have come to rely. Perhaps lawmakers’ time – and our taxpayer dollars – would be better spent developing common sense solutions that help keep people with disabilities off of public assistance and engaged in sustainable employment.
We, in Indianapolis, continue to send a strong message that people with disabilities are cherished and that like the rest of America, and supported by our Constitution, we possess an entrepreneurial spirit that will help us secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Because, as President Kennedy so eloquently said, “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”