In observance of the campaign, the consumer information website WalletHub released a report earlier this month determining the best and worst cities for people with disabilities. And some of the results are rather surprising.
For the study, researchers at WalletHub analyzed the 150 most populated cities in the nation in the context of 23 key metrics that ranged from the number of physicians per capita to the rate of employed people with disabilities to park accessibility. Other criteria that were considered were “economic environment,” “quality of life” and “health care accessibility and quality.” All dimensions were weighted equally and drew from diverse data sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Council for Community and Economic Research and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Topping the list as the most disability-friendly city in the United States is Overland Park, Kan. All of the cities in the top five are either the Midwest or Southwest, including three cities in Arizona--Peoria, Scottsdale and Chandler, which ranked 2, 3, and 5 respectively. Several Texas cities also ranked high on the list including Lubbock (4), Amarillo (6) and Plano (12).
Jill Gonzalez, a spokesperson for WalletHub, believes a lot of these cities made the list, because they are relatively new and therefore have more updated infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities.
“A lot of cities Arizona made the top ten, because they are very young cities with many of their buildings having been built after the year 2000,” says Gonzalez. “[This indicates that] these buildings are more up to code, and contain features such as multiple elevators and ramps for people with physical disabilities.”
Though having more accessible buildings and public spaces helped some cities gain top spots on the list, employment rates for the disabled was another important component in determining how disability-friendly a city was.
In the U.S., the unemployment rate for disabled people is nearly double the rate than people without a disability, with only a little more than five million people with disabilities employed in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In top-of-the-list Overland Park, which has an employment rate of 97% of the working age population, the employment rate among the disabled population of the city is 95%.
“[P]eople with disabilities often have a larger list of considerations," writes Richie Bernardo on the WalletHub website. "Factors such as the accessibility of various facilities, the quality of health care and even the cleanliness of the air can take precedence. The availability of such elements allows them to play an important role in the community and make significant contributions to the economy.”
Overland Park was followed in short order by Yonkers, N.Y.; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Laredo, Texas; and Amarillo, Texas for the highest employment rates of disabled adults.
“[P]eople with disabilities bring valuable skill sets to the workplace that build upon the strength and diversity of the American labor market,” writes Bernardo.
Yet, getting employers to acknowledge the value of potential workers who have disabilities can be difficult.
“One of the greatest challenges facing people with disabilities in employment is the lack of understanding many hiring managers have regarding people with disabilities,” Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, who doesn’t agree with many of the findings of the study.
“This study misses the mark and may mislead many people with disabilities,” says Perriello.
Specifically, Perriello notes that the study didn’t include access to public transportation as a factor in its calculations.
“Currently, in the United States over 2 million people with disabilities never leave their home," he said. "Of those, 560,000 report that a lack of accessible transportation keeps them in their homes. Cities like Overland Park and Peoria, Arizona do not have the transportation infrastructure that large metropolitan areas offer.”
So what does Perriello think the WalletHub study could have done differently to better reflect the needs of disabled individuals?
“[T]he attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities face in when it comes to employment, housing and other areas of life cannot be discounted,” says Perriello. “I would have liked them to have polled people in the various cities about their attitudes towards people with disabilities.”
--Written by Laura Kiesel for MainStreet