Inclusive Language Series: Intersection of Disability and Socioeconomic Status

For this week’s edition of our Inclusive Language Series, we will be taking a look at the intersection of disability and socioeconomic status.

According to the American Psychological Association, socioeconomic status (SES) is defined as the measurement of an individual or group’s position on a socioeconomic scale based on the following five factors: educational attainment, occupation, income, wealth, and location of residency.

An individual or group’s SES can illustrate their access (or lack thereof) to financial, educational, social, and health resources. For example, high schools with abundant resources can hold a variety of Advance Placement (AP) courses. In turn, students who took AP classes may face a lower cost of attending universities and colleges because of their prior college credit attainment. In contrast, students who did not have access to AP courses may have to take more credit courses at college which would result in a higher cost of attendance. The ways and means by which high schools are funded enable resources and opportunities to influence students’ degree of accessibility to higher education.

Moving to “disability,” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 defines the term as a physical or mental condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Furthermore, ADA considers major life activities to refer to functions important to people’s everyday lives (e.g., breathing, performing manual tasks) and major bodily functions (e.g., immune system functions, cell growth). Under ADA, the legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and protects their civil rights.

At this point of the article, you may be asking yourself how do SES and disability intersect with each other?

While ADA legally protects people with disabilities from discrimination and obstruction of civil rights, the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to pay their employees with disabilities at a lower rate than employees without disabilities. The difference in compensation based on abled or disabled bodies is a glaring example of how the U.S. government can influence not only the SES of people with disabilities (income and occupations) but also how our system of SES is grounded in ableism.

As discussed in an earlier edition of the Inclusive Language Series, we defined ableism as referring to a pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people with disabilities. Drawing back to our example of high schools’ access to AP courses, while a school can offer opportunities to earn college credits, these opportunities may not be equitable for students of all abilities. In addition, elements such as the physical environment of the school and the pedagogy teachers utilize for their courses can influence the receptivity of students with disabilities to engage in AP courses, which can influence later SES determinations.

Overall, the intersection of SES and disability is a multi-faceted and complex relationship that extends to all products of society: legislation, economic security, and health care. Intersectionality is an excellent framework for further examining and learning about the relationship between the two concepts.

Resources to Learn More

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

  • March 6: Magha Puja Day (also known as Maka Bucha), a Buddhist holiday that marks an event early in the Buddha’s teaching life when a group of 1,250 enlightened saints ordained by the Buddha gathered to pay their respect to him
  • March 7-8: Holi, the annual Hindu and Sikh religious festival observed in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, along with other countries with large Hindu and Sikh populations. People celebrate Holi by throwing colored powder and water at each other. Bonfires are lit the day before in the memory of the miraculous escape that young Parhlada accomplished when demoness Holika carried him into the fire. It is often celebrated on the full moon (the Phalguna Purnima) before the beginning of the vernal equinox, as based on the Hindu calendar
  • March 7-8: Purim, a Jewish celebration that marks the time when the Jewish community living in Persia was saved from genocide. On Purim, Jewish people dress up in costumes, offer charity, and share food with friends
  • March 7-8: Lailat al Bara’a, also known as Lailat Al Baraah, Barat, or popularly as Shab-e-Bara or Night of Forgiveness, is an Islamic holiday during which practitioners of the faith seek forgiveness for sins. Muslims spend the night in special prayers. It is regarded as one of the most sacred nights on the Islamic calendar
  • March 8: International Women’s Day, first observed in 1911 in Germany, is a major global celebration honoring women’s economic, political, and social achievements
  • March 8-10: Hola Mohalla, a Sikh festival that takes place on the second day of the lunar month of Chet, a day after the Hindu spring festival Holi