Kareem Dale is a powerful force in Washington for disabilities. He was named to the highest ranking position on disabilities ever to be created by a U.S. President. Dale is a lawyer from Chicago who is now Obama’s special assistant for disability policy. He has the president’s ear when it comes to finding ways to employ and engage people with disabilities in America, and says the White House believes that it has to “start with its own house first.”
Speaking at the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 2009 conference in Washington, D.C., Dale says that he realizes there is still much work to be done with the Americans with Disabilities Act, despite all the blood, sweat and tears. He acknowledges that the poverty level is still too high for people with disabilities. This group, he says, “cannot earn a true wage based on the parameters that are set up.” He’s talking about SSI and SSDI, the two federal subsidy programs for people with disabilities who do not work. If you try to get a job, you lose federal benefits, but the wage often isn’t sufficient enough to pay for healthcare. “People with disabilities want to work,” Dale says. “But the lack of healthcare has contributed in a great way to the high unemployment rate.”
Dale is no stranger to this situation. A lawyer by trade, he is blind and says he has “walked up against that precipice” of what a lot of disabled people deal with: Earning just enough money to lose federal aid, but then how to pay for healthcare if it isn’t offered by an employer, or the job is part-time? “That’s a question that a person with a disability should never have to answer.”
Dale says change is going to start with companies, who need to enact a real, measurable hiring movement among the disabled demographic. And the White House is trying to lead by example, Dale says. Obama has appointed more people with disabilities in the last seven months than any other President has appointed in his entire term “and we’re just getting warmed up,” he adds. To that end, Obama’s health reform package will allow the disabled to continue getting healthcare even if they go over their SSI or SSDI limit.
Dale also expects to make some “major announcements” ahead of National Disability Awareness month in October.