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Rules make it tough for disabled to get training and go to work

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Monday March 19, 2001

Aroner calls for legislation to stop punishing disabled who go to work 


Twin 14-year-olds with spina bifida – a birth defect due to spinal cord damage often causing paralysis – who attend Oakland Technical High School cannot get personal assistant help because they are homeless and therefore have no address. Disability rights activist Jane Jackson, a mentor to the twins, testified on their behalf before the Assembly Human Services Committee last week.  

The committee, chaired by Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, held the hearing to get specifics on the barriers that disabled people face when they try to access education and employment. 

Aroner has introduced a bill to the Assembly, AB925, that attempts to help disabled people get what they need in order to work. About 72 percent of people with disabilities across the country are unemployed. 

Speaking to the committee via video-conferencing technology from a room in Dwinelle Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus on Wednesday, Jackson was one among the hundred or so participants who testified from four different venues around the state. Committee members who watched the proceeding in Sacramento, including Wilma Chan, D-Alameda, walked away with a list of horror stories: 

• Chrissy Thomson testified in Berkeley that she can’t put money away for her future. She’s a paraplegic who is employed, but rules that govern programs for the disabled do not permit her to have more than $2,000 in the bank or she’ll lose her medical benefits. Her degenerative disease means that eventually she may be unable to work – squirreling away money now would ease her worries for the future. “I should be able to work as much as I can and not lose benefits,” she said. 

• A man speaking from San Diego is a quadriplegic with one set of needs. His wife is disabled with a completely different set of needs. Each has a vehicle and neither can drive the other’s. They were denied services from the state department of Health and Human Services because its rules permit a family to own only one vehicle. 

• Someone speaking from a hearing room at UC Los Angeles stated that he spent 47 percent of his income on attendant care. “There’s not enough money left to pay for room and board,” he said. 

• Others addressed the attendant situation from the standpoint of the workers who earn $7.50 an hour. “That’s not enough to support a family on,” said one person, also speaking from Los Angeles. 

• Mary Skyer, who works in deaf services in San Francisco, testified through a sign-language interpreter about a young deaf man who trained and got a job doing smog inspections. As soon as he got the job, his Social Security Disability Insurance was cut off. Skyer suggested that SSDI should give people a reasonable amount of time to get on their feet, and gradually decrease payments. 

Aroner’s AB925 is would require the Health and Human Services Agency “create a sustainable, comprehensive strategy to accomplish various goals aimed at bringing persons with disabilities into employment....” The bill would set up “one-stop centers” to provide services to people with disabilities, so that they do not have to go from agency to agency, where they sometimes have to confront conflicting requirements. The bill would allow people to maintain their medical benefits while they are working or going to school.