I went to volunteer at the food pantry of the United Church on Saturday and I was quite surprised. I had expected that the people who would be using the food pantry were going to be mostly homeless. However as it turned out only a few of them were homeless and quite a few of them were people with physical or mental disabilities.
After having gone to some of the activities this week in celebration of the Twentieth Anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), my volunteering experience at the food pantry came as a reminder that the face of poverty is many times the face of a person with a disability. This experience also made me think about how people with disabilities are such a high percentage of the unemployed, or else not even trying to participate in the labor force, and as a result many people with disabilities live in poverty.
This summer I have met people with disabilities employed in both the public and the private sectors who are highly successful. My food pantry volunteering experience exposed me to the other end of the spectrum. I met people that have been left behind by society. These people stood in line outside of the building because the building with the food pantry was not accessible to people in wheelchairs. They stood in line outside and were provided with a bag of potatoes, carrots, a box of cereal and chicken parts. Also shocking to me was to see parents with their children, and a pregnant woman, picking up food because they could not afford to buy it. This contrast showed me that the ADA was just the beginning, but that society still has a way to go to ensure that people with disabilities participate to their full capacities in the economy and are fully included in society.