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

  • February 24: 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
  • February 26-29: Ayyám-i-ha or Intercalary days, A Bahá’í holiday that marks a period of celebration devoted to charity, gift-giving and festivities prior to the annual period of fasting.
  • March 1-19: Nineteen-Day Fast, Baha’is between 15 and 70 years of age do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset and set aside time for prayer and meditation.
  • March 1-30: National Women’s History Month, Honors women as significant agents of historical change