A confluence of factors ranging from prejudice to the complexity of support systems are leaving people with disabilities disproportionately impoverished, a congressional report finds.

More than two decades after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the nation has made significant progress in ensuring that places are physically accessible, but an investigation by the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee finds that major social and economic barriers remain.

The committee solicited feedback from more than 400 Americans with all types of disabilities over the summer. What they learned was that this population is struggling to find work, maintain needed supports and access basic infrastructure like transportation.

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Prejudice and low expectations compound the situation, the report indicated.

Individuals who the committee heard from described a litany of obstacles including years-long waiting lists for housing, discrimination and low pay in the workplace. Some said they are afraid to seek out work because they will lose needed services if they earn too much money.

“I think that employers are just not interested in taking a chance, and they find excuses not to hire us,” an Iowa woman with Down syndrome told the committee. “They are afraid they will get stuck in a difficult situation, but I always hear that many research studies have shown that people with disabilities make real good employees. The situation is very frustrating!”

Overall, twice as many people with disabilities live in poverty as compared to those who are typically developing and less than 30 percent of working-age people in this population are participating in the workforce, far less than the 78 participation rate for other Americans, according to the Senate report.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee’s chairman called the current situation an “urgent national challenge.”

“Congress needs to address these concerns,” Harkin said at a hearing Thursday to discuss the issue. “We need strategies to break through these barriers and create paths to the middle class for the nearly 29 percent of people with disabilities living in poverty.”

Steps ought to be taken to increase the availability of accessible housing and transportation, the committee report found, and to simplify communication around available government programs to ensure that people with disabilities understand what supports are offered and how to qualify for them.

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