By Thomas H. Earle
As Philadelphia's mayoral candidates opine on various issues, they also ought to consider a topic that receives far too little attention from elected officials - the quality of life of the 90,000 Philadelphians who are disabled.
According to the Census Bureau's 2005 survey, 19 percent of the city's residents who were 5 or older had one or more physical or mental disabilities. More than 45 percent of those 65 or older had a disability.
Even more alarming are these troubling statistics:
More than half the nearly 90,000 disabled Philadelphians ages 16 to 64 are unable to go outside their homes.
The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is nearly 74 percent, though many want to work.
College enrollment among people with disabilities is half that of the nondisabled population.
Disabled citizens are disproportionately poorer than the general population.
Lack of educational opportunities and rampant unemployment mean many disabled individuals must survive far below the federal poverty line, receiving only their Supplemental Security Income of $630 per month. The poverty level is $851 per month. In Philadelphia, 35 percent of disabled residents - or 31,500 - live in poverty.
There is an acute shortage of subsidized housing for people with disabilities, and many have little money left for any pleasures after paying rent.
Behind each of these statistics is a human being.
The solution for a better quality of life is true community integration, and this requires increased employment opportunities, accessible and affordable housing, and accessible and reliable transportation.
The disabled community would call upon the mayoral candidates to address five major concerns.
Foremost is a substantial increase in affordable, accessible and integrated housing for the disabled.
The Philadelphia Affordable Housing Coalition and the Campaign for Housing Justice have drafted an "inclusionary zoning" ordinance that would require at least 10 percent of all new housing units to be accessible and affordable to qualified low-income residents with disabilities. Where does each candidate stand on such a measure?
To ensure that voices from the disabled community are fairly heard, at least one person with a disability should be appointed to the Philadelphia Housing Authority's board of directors. Where does each candidate stand on such a measure?
As a society, we desperately need to improve the educational achievement of people with disabilities. This population needs financial access to postsecondary education.
Also, the city's school district needs to ensure that its teaching practices include children with disabilities as part of its mandate to educate all of Philadelphia's children. Where does each candidate stand on this issue?
As they do with the housing authority, people with disabilities need a voice on issues of public transportation. At least one person with a disability should be appointed to the SEPTA board. Where does each candidate stand on such a measure?
Finally, nearly all of Philadelphia's polling places are inaccessible to people with disabilities. Many of the disabled are veterans. The city should make all polling places accessible to voters with disabilities. Where does each candidate stand on this issue?
It is time for our community to receive the attention we deserve - as contributing members of society, as intelligent voters who have something to say, and as committed citizens who want to make a difference in their communities.