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Paper suggests dignity, training to combat disabled poverty

Muskogee Phoenix - 2/6/2019

Feb. 06--There's an obvious correlation between poverty and disability -- compounding the basic difficulties of work with physical and mental issues can inhibit a person's ability to hold a job.

But there's another, less-discussed correlation, contends former Gospel Rescue Mission employee Jim Essert.

"From interviews with many men and women who have been diagnosed with having a disability, it appears that the label of disabled or handicapped has an even more detrimental impact on men and women than their actual disability," Essert said. "Because of the label, many people focus on the impairment and its perceived limitations. What would happen if, instead, we focused on what the person can do?"

Essert is the primary author behind a white paper from the Gospel Rescue Missions' series of reports on the causes of poverty. Prior papers have examined the intersections between poverty and race, domestic abuse, and eviction.

Essert's paper discusses the relationships between disability and poverty, and the faults in how we've addressed those relationships so far.

"The percentage of adults with disabilities is on the rise as poverty grows more common for these men and women," Essert writes.

A 2017 census from the University of New Hampshire'sInstitute on Disability lists 12.8 percent of Americans as disabled. An estimate from Cornell University's Disability Statistics tool states that approximately 16.4 percent of Oklahomans -- roughly one in six -- are disabled.

Those disabilities not only impact a person's capabilities, Essert writes, but also their relationships with other people.

"For many healthy people, without any limiting disabilities life can be difficult to manage," Essert said. "However, with healthy relationships and family contacts, often these obstacles can be overcome. For many in poverty, these relationships are limited in how much they can help."

Disability can also lull a person into apathy, Essert writes.

"Too often a mindset comes where they simply wait on resources to appear," Essert said.

Therefore, the target should not necessarily be to simply provide for disabled people, but rather to help them build the relationships and skills necessary to become as self-sufficient as they can, Essert writes.

Training supervisors on how to work around assorted disabilities is one thing that may help, as can job training for the disabled person. Job training, Essert writes, can provide much-needed structure in a person's life that helps build resourcefulness and timeliness. In turn, those things will help with difficulties related to both disability and poverty.

"Those experiencing poverty often do not have a good sense of time and poor boundaries," Essert said. "A bit of patient training could be all that it will take to help these men and women to experience freedom."

In short, the best way to help those disabled is to change the way people perceive disability, and to encourage the disabled to see their own value.

"Those with disabilities dream like anybody else, but we often dismiss them, focused on what a person with a disability cannot do," Essert writes. "These men and women have great value and must be encouraged to be responsible citizens."

Learn more

The Gospel Rescue Mission's series of papers on the causes of poverty can be found at, under the Community Leadership tab.


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