Under Trump, disability rights must be gutted for profit

Clara Barros/ Staff Writer

At this point, it’s no news that the Trump administration has been antagonizing minorities of all kinds.

For the past two years, we’ve witnessed the constant rolling back of rights and regulations won by the people through hard struggle. Racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT discrimination abound.  

Still, little has been said about the impact of the current administration on Americans with disabilities.

Journalists who have been paying attention to this issue tell us the situation is dire. Headlines have alerted us that the rights of disabled Americans are under attack and that Trump’s agenda has threatened “nearly every facet of [their] life,” according to Robin Powell.

Critically important was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind no less than ten guidance documents on disability last December.

One of them was a 2016 document that codified the labor rights of disabled workers, protecting them “from abusive living situations and exploitative work environments,” as journalist David M. Perry explained.

The purpose of this document was to push back against “sheltered workshops,” which are entities that employ disabled workers in a segregated fashion and are legally allowed to pay them subminimum wages — sometimes as low as pennies per hour.

These entities make humongous profits off people’s physical condition while presenting themselves as “charitable” initiatives. Goodwill Industries, for example, who pays its disabled employees subminimum wages, has accumulated the fortune of $5.87 billion, according to Mother Jones magazine’s editorial fellow Ashley Dejean.

Trump’s team and fellow right-wings have objected that those jobs “prepare people with disabilities to enter the workforce.” But the reality is that “only about five percent of workers who start in these workshops transition to jobs elsewhere”, Dejean says, based on a report from the Government Accountability Office.

With Sessions’ withdrawal of the document, states are no longer encouraged to abandon this practice and provide decent, integrated employment for disabled men and women.

Also worthy of mention was Republicans’ fight — backed by Trump — to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and gut Medicaid, even though the move ultimately failed.

Medicaid is simply the primary health insurer of disabled persons. “It covers services that other commercial health insurance does not, such as personal care assistants who provide in-home care to people with disabilities”, Powell explains. Without those assistants, many disabled individuals effectively lose their autonomy and agency.

In addition, earlier this year, the House passed a bill (the “ADA Education and Reform Act”) that undermined the effectiveness of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The bill hampers a disabled person’s right to file a lawsuit for violations of ADA (such as an establishment’s lack of wheelchair accessibility), and effectively allows businesses to ignore the law until someone complains.

At last, let’s not forget Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: last year, she rescinded over 70 guidelines that protected disabled students at school. Her move was a consequence of Trump’s order to  “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens”, which includes schools’ spending on accessible, special educational programs.

The Trump administration and the private sectors it serves have systematically shown their unshakable commitment to put profit over people, by necessity and by class interests.

At the end of the day, they will do anything — from allowing companies to exploit people’s disability to denying basic accessibility justice — to increase the bottom line.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

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