You wake up early every day. You put in a solid day’s work at the office. You come home and stare at the rent that is due next week and the empty pantry in the kitchen. With an extremely limited income, which one do you choose?
We can take many things in our lives for granted, but for thousands of our fellow lakeshore residents, this hypothetical situation is an uncomfortable reality. Last week, the Holland Sentinel ran an article penned by Mitchell Boatman titled “United Way: Nearly half of Michiganders with disabilities struggle to make ends meet.”
In the article, Boatman revealed that 41.7 percent of Ottawa County residents and 37 percent of Allegan Country residents with a disability fall below the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) threshold, meaning many can struggle to put food on the table, pay for rent, or pump gas in their car.
While these numbers are below the state average of 47.8 percent, they are still quite distressing. Women and minority groups saw an even higher percentage of those below the threshold.
Step back for a moment and think about how something like this can happen. When the outcome is so severe, it’s often difficult to look for the causes. In this case we can look no further than the fact that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, people with disabilities make as little as $0.66 for every dollar someone without a disability earns.
A combination of underpaid workers, a lower graduation rate at both the high school and collegiate level, and a hesitancy to allow accommodations in the workplace results in thousands of people with disabilities struggling to make ends meet.
While these facts often feel bleak, there is hope for our future. Disability Network Lakeshore’s Associate Board is one reason to have hope for the future of disability rights. DNL, a nonprofit focused on independent living, exists to connect Ottawa and Allegan residents with disabilities to local resources designed to help them participate, contribute and belong to their community.
The organization’s associate board is comprised of five young professionals in their early 20s, each with a lived disability experience. When the board was formed, its one mission was to help DNL build accessible communities. With these young workers on the ground floor of major companies across the lakeshore, the conversation around employees with disabilities can begin to change.
Furthermore, the associate board is passionate about disability visibility on the lakeshore. With Chairperson Chloe Bares at the helm, the group has organized the “Walk, Run, and Roll 5K” event at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10.
Bares, a recent Hope College graduate, said: “I believe the 5K will foster community and connection. It will create a space where people feel unified in a cause, expand their social circles, and meet individuals they may not have known before. There is a community on the lakeshore advocating for those with disabilities.”
The event encourages everyone to participate at their own pace. This includes those using wheelchairs or other assistive devices. By hosting this event in downtown Holland, the associate board hopes that the 5K will promote visibility and the importance of creating an accessible community.
For more information, visit dnlakeshore.org. The younger generations are our future. With groups like DNL’s associate board, we can have hope that those with disabilities will be included in the conversation around rights, employment, housing, and many other topics.
If Michigan hopes to lower the number of those below the ALICE threshold, people with disabilities must be included in the conversation. Nearly one in three adults in Michigan lives with a disability. Their voices deserve to be heard.
— The Disability Network Lakeshore is a nonprofit organization that advocates for and provides resources and assistance to people with disabilities in the Holland area. Learn more at dnlakeshore.org.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Disability Network Lakeshore: Residents struggling with disabilities deserve a seat at the table