The self-sufficiency of any person or group largely depends on the capacity to maintain a certain level of financial stability. As a group, people with disabilities are among those with the highest poverty rates and lowest educational levels despite typically having some of the highest out-of-pocket expenses of all other groups. Educational level is strongly related to financial status and independence in most of the studies performed on these variables. Despite regulations to attempt to provide an equal and fair education to students identified as having disabilities, the research indicates that the majority of these individuals do not reach the educational levels and financial status of their non-disabled peers. The limitations of a failed system of assistance for these individuals that creates a double-edged sword in the form of stigmatizing these students has resulted in it being next to impossible for this group to obtain even an "average" standard of living.
What is a "Disability?"
The formal definition of disability is still somewhat sketchy. A disability may include physical factors, cognitive issues, mental health issues, sensory problems, emotional difficulties, delays or issues with normal developmental or a combination of such factors. There are a number of formal definitions for disability, but perhaps the most often quoted of these is that from the World Health Organization (WHO, 2012):
Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.
Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives. .
The definition by the WHO leaves a lot of open territory for the definition of disability, which is considered good or bad depending on the interpreter and the reason for defining a subset of individuals with disabilities. However, for purposes of this paper it is the formal definition we will consider since this paper will not limit the discussion to any single group. Given the above definition, individuals often may qualify as disabled if they have had a significant past impairment (especially if it still interferes with their daily functioning in some manner) or can be demonstrated to be disabled when compared to a group or personal standard or group norm. These particular types of impairments can also incorporate cognitive, sensory, physical, or developmental issues. Under the WHO definition mental disorders are covered under the rubric of psychosocial disability or sometimes as psychiatric disabilities. However, certain activists have been opposed categorizing certain conditions as being disabilities, often claiming that it is appropriate to consider certain conditions as developmental differences that have been unjustly stigmatized (DePoy & Gilson, 2004). However, the WHO definition does not make such a distinction and is still the most overarching and useful definition.
Educational Factors in Disabilities
In assessing the affect of having a disability the first step is to look at how disabilities of all types impact the ability to receive equal educational opportunities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) remains the most important body of legislation that specifies how educational services should be allocated to children/students with disabilities (United States Department of Education). However, there is a bit of history to consider before reviewing the overall impact of the act.
First, in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ended the practice of segregating black and white students into separate schools. Education was a large part of the Civil Rights Movement, and this eventually led to other legislation. However, prior to 1975 U.S. public were governed by State laws, many that that excluded children with certain types of disabilities from attending public schools (Osgood, 2008). Actions such as the one by the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children, which sued the State of Pennsylvania in 1972 for not allowing equal educational opportunities for disabled children foreshadowed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which determined that Federal programs could not discriminate due to disabilities; however, parents had to formally sue to get equal access (Osgood, 2008). The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 allowed parents of such children to demand administrative hearings, reducing litigation costs and for their children to enjoy a free public education in the least restrictive environment (Osgood, 2008). In 1990 Education for All Handicapped Children Act was replaced by the IDEA which changed the concentration to the individual student and not just to the condition. The IDEA also improved on the Education for All Handicapped Children Act by promoting research, outlining transition programs for students beyond the high school level and programs that allow for teaching disabled educate children in immediate area schools (Osgood, 2008). The IDEA has been updated and the current updated version was passed in 2004. Over 6 million children and adolescents with disabilities now receive services (Artiles et al., 2010). A full discussion of all the particular aspects of the IDEA is beyond the scope of this paper; however, important issues in the IDEA are:
1. Part B of the IDEA which stipulates the conditions for States receiving Federal funds states that the States must provide a free and a suitable public education to all disabled students.
2. This education is provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge.
3. It must satisfy the standards of the appropriate State education agency.
4. The education includes appropriate preschool, elementary, and/or secondary school.
5. The education conforms to the IDEA programs established for the child.
Schools must also educate the disabled students in the least restrictive environment, which translates to educating them their peers in a regular classroom whenever possible or providing them with educational environments that are appropriate to their disability (Osgood, 2008).
One of the issues in the definition and identification of disability, especially as it affects the education of children and subsequently affects income and job status later in life is the notion of disproportionate representation. Oswald, Coutinho, Best, and Singh (1999) described disproportionate representation as the situation that occurs when membership in a specific group increases the probability of being placed in a specific disability category. For example, it has been well documented that certain ethnic groups are disproportionately represented in groups requiring special education (Hibel, Farkas, & Morgan, 2010). Artiles et al. (2010) reports that these students are disproportionally placed in the mild mentally retarded, learning disabled, and emotional/behavioral disorder groups. Artiles et al. refers to these students collectively as "historically underserved groups" (p. 279) to describe students that come from diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and economically disadvantaged environments who have gone through chronic failure in the school system. This way Artiles et al. can describe this population as an oppressed group. Research has identified mediating factors to this such as social economic status (a popular mediating factor in the research), the number of minority students in the specific school system, and language background (Oswald et al., 1999). Despite these issues the IDEA has resulted at least in changing the approach to education for those students identified as having a disability.
Before the IDEA disabled students were likely to be segregated from mainstream classrooms (Artiles et al., 2010). The importance of an inclusive education for children is stressed in the IDEA standards in order to remove stigma and reduce psychological and emotional barriers associated with having a disability. However, the practice of inclusive education has been difficult to achieve. Moreover, for many disabled students good quality learning is not taking place (to the extent that quality learning is possible). However, the proportion of students with disabilities who were spent more than 80% of their time learning in general classrooms has shown an increase in the past 19 years. But students with language impairments, specific learning disabilities, hearing impairments, or visual impairments were most likely to be included in mainstream classes, whereas students with intellectual disabilities, mental disabilities, emotional issues, or more than one concurrent disability are least likely to be included and only 58% of all students with disabilities spend 80% or more of their time in regular classrooms (National Council on Disabilities [NCD], 2011). The inequalities of being identified with a disability as it relates to educational achievement can be observed in the high school graduation rates for each of the 14 dishabilles recognized by the IDEA. The average high school graduation rate for the year 2007-2008 in the U.S. was just over 75% for nondisabled students (NCD, 2011). The graduation rates by disability for the same period according to the NCD (2011) are: Visual impairments 77%; Hearing Impairments 70%; Other health impairments 67%; Speech or language impairments 67%; Traumatic brain injury 65%; Specific learning disabilities 64%; Autism 63%; Orthopedic impairments 62%; Deaf-Blindness 57%; Emotional disturbance 46%; Multiple disabilities 46%; Intellectual disability 38%. Thus, there is a relationship between the level of disability and…