Part 5: Issues in Contemporary Disability

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • discuss issues related to contemporary disability.
  • communicate positions through writing.

The following are brief discussions of only a few issues in contemporary disability.

World Events


The COVID-19  pandemic has highlighted many issues. The United Nations’ “A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19” states unequivocally that “[p]ersons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.” The discussions concerning masking, vaccines, and other precautions revealed a lack of understanding or, at times, concern about issues related to disability. A person with a disability, a neuromuscular condition, Jessica Lehman claimed,“I think in the COVID pandemic we saw the most horrible manifestation of ableism and ageism that I’ve ever seen […] It was like seeing everything that I was aware of – the general societal perceptions and prejudices – seeing it in writing and seeing it legitimized and sanctioned” (Egusa). In addition, those who have developed long COVID are now trying to receive disability status in order to get legal accommodations (Emanuel).

War in Ukraine

In times of war, the most vulnerable people have the most difficulty. It is that much harder for people with mobility issues, and their caregivers, to leave a war zone. Mental health conditions are exacerbated. Medicine is scarcer. The war in Ukraine is no exception: “There are an estimated 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. Many now face brutal conditions brought on by the invasion, an unfolding humanitarian crisis, and international organizations’ failure to account for the needs of disabled Ukrainians” (McBride). There are stories of people being unable to go to underground shelters to escape bombing because there is no access. Accessible transportation to escape to other cities or countries is arduous.

Climate Change

Kavitha Yarlagadda notes, “Persons with disabilities are frequently among the worst affected by climate change, similar to the disproportionately higher rates of morbidity and mortality they suffer in emergencies while also being among the least able to get emergency assistance.” Several types of disability respond poorly to extreme heat, meaning that global warming has a larger effect on them. Natural disasters caused by climate change also affect people with disabilities more because they have a more onerous time getting help in these situations.


Disability activism has been prevalent during the pandemic as people with disabilities have faced many legal and human rights issues (Scheier). Activism comes naturally to people with disabilities; as Andrew Pulrang states, “Most people with disabilities have to be advocates at some point. We have no choice. Some later adopt it as a calling, for ourselves and others like us. A few are inspired to commit to more long-term and consequential disability activism with the potential to benefit thousands or millions of disabled people.” As with other issues like this, allies also need to aid people with disabilities in their activism efforts.


The rights of people with disabilities to receive an equal education to their peers is extremely important. There have been and continue to be obstacles to ensuring this happens, including lack of teacher training, dedicated resources, and willingness to provide accommodations, all exacerbated during COVID. There are also instances that show progress. According to the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, the state, in 2022, passed a law that “remove[s] barriers precluding persons with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and Autism from participating in state colleges and universities.” These types of advancements help guarantee the right of education.


The Century Foundation’s 2022 “Economic Justice Is Disability Justice” report lists a number of reasons people with disabilities face economic insecurity: denial of reasonable accommodations, among other forms of workplace discrimination; job loss due to disability or illness; disproportionate wages; disability-related insurance costs; and lack of access to education and training. Indeed, they conclude that “disabled workers in the United States face much higher rates of unemployment than their nondisabled peers […] a stark pay gap means that disabled workers who are employed were paid an average of 74 cents on the dollar in 2020 compared with nondisabled workers.” These statistics are even starker for people with disabilities who also share other marginalizations, such as disabled Black adults (“i​​n 2020, one in four disabled Black adults lived in poverty compared to just over one in seven of their white counterparts”) and disabled LGBTQ+ people (“nearly 46 percent of LGBT individuals reported experiencing workplace harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point during their lives”). The World Economic Forum reports that “[a]lthough 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability.” There is much lip service to diversity but actual progress is slow.


There are other important intersections between disability and marginalized peoples. Disability is often perceived through white, Western lenses, which does not take into account how certain communities think about and address disability. See, for instance, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services video on “Mental Health So White” or the TED talk “Changing views on mental health in the Black community” for more on these issues. There is also a distrust on the part of some communities in asking for services due to historic mistreatment. Mi’kmaq mother Symbia Barnaby reports, “Indigenous families who have kids with disabilities, or suspect their child has a disability, are often very fearful to come forward to access support services, because they [support services] are connected with the Ministry of Child and Family Development […] Historically, when you’re looking at residential schools and MCFD – they haven’t had the best track record with Indigenous people” (Kulkarni). These intersectional issues and others need to be considered and addressed simultaneously with those of people with disabilities.


In 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation released an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.” These include:

  1. The Right to Be Treated with Dignity and Respect.
  2. The Right to Receive Information About Services and Aircraft Capabilities and Limitations.
  3.  The Right to Receive Information in an Accessible Format.
  4. The Right to Accessible Airport Facilities.
  5. The Right to Assistance at Airports.
  6. The Right to Assistance on the Aircraft.
  7. The Right to Travel with an Assistive Device or Service Animal.
  8. The Right to Receive Seating Accommodations.
  9. The Right to Accessible Aircraft Features.
  10. The Right to Resolution of a Disability-Related Issue.

This release comes on top of the Department’s program to provide $1.75 billion in funding that cities can apply for to make public transit stations more accessible to disabled people (Lai). These efforts come on the heels of the thirtieth anniversary of the ADA, indicating progress but also indicating that universal transportation accessibility is still a work in progress.

Write: Position

About This Type of Writing

Reread “About this type of writing” concerning position arguments in 3.4.

Once you decide on a topic and begin moving through the writing process, you may need to fine-tune or even change the topic and rework your initial idea. This fine-tuning may come as you brainstorm, later when you begin drafting, or after you have completed a draft and submitted it to your peers for constructive criticism. These possibilities occur because the writing process is recursive—that is, it moves back and forth almost simultaneously and maybe even haphazardly at times, from planning to revising to editing to drafting, back to planning, and so on.

After you have decided on your topic, the next step is to arrive at your working thesis. You probably have a good idea of the direction your working thesis will take. That is, you know where you stand on the issue or problem, but you are not quite sure of how to word your stance to share it with readers. At this point, then, use brainstorming to think critically about your position and to discover the best way to phrase your statement.

Remember that a strong thesis for a position should

  • state your stance on a debatable issue;
  • reflect your purpose of persuasion; and
  • be based on your opinion or observation.

When you first consider your topic for an argumentative work, think about the reasoning for your position and the evidence you will need—that is, think about the “because” part of your argument. For instance, if you want to argue that your college should provide free Wi-Fi for every student, extend your stance to include “because” and then develop your reasoning and evidence. In that case, your argument might read like this: Ervin Community College should provide free Wi-Fi for all students because students may not have Internet access at home.

Note that the “because” part of your argument may come at the beginning or the end and may be implied in your wording.

As you develop your thesis, you may need help funneling all of your ideas. Return to the possibilities you have in mind, and select the ideas that you think are strongest, that recur most often, or that you have the most to say about. Then use those ideas to fill in one of the following sentence frames to develop your working thesis. Feel free to alter the frame as necessary to fit your position.

​​Summary of Writing Task

  • Select a current issue in disability (one of the above or one of your own).
  • Select a news article published within the last five years about the current issue that contains a position argument.
  • Read the article carefully.
  • Write out your position argument in response (either in agreement with or in opposition) in an organized, persuasive form.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the position argument of the news article?
  • What ramifications do you think this issue has on the disability community or the community at large?
  • Are the issues specific to the disability community or do they apply to everyone?
  • What accommodations have been designed or rejected? Why?
  • Do you have a suggestion for a solution? Or a comment on/addition to a solution presented?

Text Attributions

This section contains material taken from “Chapter 10: Position Argument: Practicing the Art of Rhetoric” from Writing Guide with Handbook by Senior Contributing Authors Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, and Toby Fulwiler, with other contributing authors and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.


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