The early years are critical for children with disabilities, and those from low-income households often do not have a level playing field. For example, accommodation (or 504) plans, which are generally used by students with less severe disabilities, are disproportionately granted to students from wealthier families, according to a New York Times analysis of Department of Education data. Such plans can give students extra time on tests used for placement in classes and entrance to college.
Those inequalities often extend into adulthood. The National Council on Disability found that people with disabilities account for about 12 percent of working-age people in the United States, but that more than half of working-age people with disabilities live in long-term poverty. “People with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities,” according to a 2017 report published by the council.
The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank with a focus on reducing inequality, looked specifically at the disproportionality of IDEA, recommending in a report last year that policymakers require that income status be reported, as a way to better assure that children with disabilities are treated equally in how they are disciplined, identified and placed. IDEA was supposed to narrow the gap for children from low-income households, but they continue to lag behind their peers from wealthier households on assessment tests, the report found.
Susan J. Horwitz, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society (Ms. Chapman is a client), said spirit and intention differed greatly from application. “I love the IDEA, the A.D.A., 504. This is incredible legislation to not discriminate against people with disabilities,” she said. “But if there’s no money support to provide everything? This is not so much the legislation as much as the implementation.”
Ms. Chapman, the New York City Transit worker, has four children, and the oldest and youngest have disabilities. Kevin Spalding, now 20, has behavioral issues, which she described as “disruptive personality.” “He required so much attention that I couldn’t work,” said Ms. Chapman, 46, who said she initially had financial support from her partner. “When I did work, I was so exhausted all the time that I couldn’t do anything with him.”
Ms. Chapman and her partner separated when their youngest son, Kyle Spalding, was 4 months old, leaving her with no income and two children in need of full-time attention. “I had to keep running to the hospital” with Kyle, she said, who is allergic to most foods — so severely that his diet is limited to rice and chicken.
Day care centers refused to accept Kyle, so it became clear that she would not be able to work and that she would have to rely on public assistance.