Disability Insurance

Living With Disability

In search of disability-friendly cities

In its new survey, 2021’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities, consumer site wallethub.com looks at how U.S. cities provide environments for people with disabilities.

With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the average monthly Social Security disability benefit at only $1,151.79, barely enough to keep an individual out of poverty, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2021’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

In order to ease the process of finding the best place to live while managing a disability, WalletHub compared more than 180 U.S. cities across 34 key indicators of disability-friendliness. The data set ranges from wheelchair-accessible facilities per capita to rate of workers with disabilities to quality of public hospital system.

Best Cities for People with DisabilitiesWorst Cities for People with Disabilities
1. Overland Park, KS173. Huntsville, AL
2. Scottsdale, AZ174. Montgomery, AL
3. St. Louis, MO175. Jackson, MS
4. Minneapolis, MN176. Winston-Salem, NC
5. Denver, CO177. Mobile, AL
6. Rochester, NY178. Tallahassee, FL
7. Yonkers, NY179. New Haven, CT
8. Huntington Beach, CA180. Bridgeport, CT
9. San Francisco, CA181. Providence, RI
10. Tucson, AZ182. Gulfport, MS

Best vs. Worst

  • Cleveland, Ohio, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, have the highest share of people with disabilities living in the area, 20 percent, which is 3.6 times higher than in Irvine, California, the city with the lowest at 5.60 percent.
  • Overland Park, Kansas, has the lowest share of people with disabilities living in poverty, 8.70 percent, which is 5.2 times lower than in Rochester, New York, the city with the highest at 44.90 percent.
  • El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, have the lowest median annual cost of in-home services, $34,320, which is 2.3 times lower than in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, the cities with the highest at $80,034.
  • Pearl City, Hawaii, has the highest median annual earnings for people with disabilities, $40,321, which is 4.7 times higher than in Burlington, Vermont, the city with the lowest at $8,522.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit here.

Expert Commentary

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was adopted nearly three decades ago. What 21st century improvements should be made, if any, to this important act?

“One of the biggest challenges of the ADA is that it has no teeth. If something is non-compliant, it is up to the disabled person to find a lawyer and sue (same with if someone is fired or not hired due to their disability), which already makes it nigh on impossible. Then, in many cases, it is hard to prove (especially in employment cases, where only 12% of cases are resolved on the merits of the employee). There are no funds available to assess locations, employees, etc., in advance to ensure compliance, and no funds available to help places that want to update buildings and improve policies to be more accessible, so it comes out of small businesses, non-profits, etc., which often means these changes just do not happen. It was a good start 30 years ago, AND it needs some major revamps to actually accomplish what it is supposed to.”
Shanna K. Kattari, Ph.D., MEd, CSE, ACS – Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

“The ADA remains very important and has provided a great base for protecting the basic rights of people with a wide variety of disabilities. Although ADA remains a very good policy, it might benefit from updates to more directly address accessibility and accommodations in remote work/educational arrangements, in the sharing economy, and accessibility of digital content, which can all still be hit or miss.”
Matthew Bogenschutz, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

How has the pandemic impacted people with disabilities in terms of labor and higher education?

“Most people do not realize that while some places tout that they employ people with disabilities…they pay these employees far less than minimum wage, solely because they are disabled. With the pandemic, many people with disabilities got accommodations to work from home/take classes from home that they had been asking for over years. This was bittersweet – it was excellent that they were finally able to do these things, but frustrating that they had always been told it was impossible…until the whole world moved online, seemingly overnight, in March 2020. Now, a lot of businesses and schools are going back in person, and many are forcing disabled people to choose between going back in person to the office/classroom, or quitting, which is a ridiculous choice to have to make. Others cannot go back in person due to risks to themselves or those in their household who may have compromised immune systems, which can be another challenge when it comes to either employers or school settings.”
Shanna K. Kattari, Ph.D., MEd, CSE, ACS – Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

“The pandemic has had mixed effects. On one hand, for some people with disabilities, it has become easier to work or attend higher education, since work and education have rapidly moved into virtual spaces that do not require commutes…On the other hand…people with disabilities, especially intellectual and developmental disabilities, have had a harder time finding the supports they need for successful work. The pandemic has intensified the pre-existing crisis in the direct support workforce that provides services for people with disabilities where they live, work, and learn, and until Congress and state legislatures act to allocate adequate funds for direct support, poor pay, high turnover, and inadequate training are likely to continue.”
Matthew Bogenschutz, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

What can be done to facilitate better access to health care, testing sites, and critical information when it comes to COVID-19 for people with disabilities?

“Firstly, we need to realize that not all disabilities are the same, and we have different needs and require different accommodations. A blind person will likely need information that is screen reader compatible and/or in braille, while someone with mobility impairment will need the testing site to be accessible, or to sit in line while waiting for their vaccine. An autistic adult might need a health care setting that is not full of bright lights and loud noises, while when it comes to mental health, some individuals prefer telehealth therapy while others are desperate to see their therapist in person. Clearer communication is needed as well; right now, there are 3rd shots for immunocompromised people, but the CDC definition of this is different than many physicians…The best thing is to ask disabled and chronically ill people what they need and create spaces and communication based on that. Moreover, get vaccinated. Some of us cannot, due to our health issues, and those that can still be at more risk of getting COVID and having a more severe case of COVID.”
Shanna K. Kattari, Ph.D., MEd, CSE, ACS – Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

“Many of the early testing and vaccine sites were drive-through opportunities. Because many people with disabilities cannot or do not drive, they often rely on public transportation, which meant that they often did not have access to these testing and vaccination events. Moreover, nearly every state’s vaccine website (and CDC’s) was inaccessible to people with disabilities. And telephone lines set up as an alternative to websites had long wait times and limited hours of availability.”
Jean P. Hall, Ph.D. – Director, Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies, University of Kansas


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