By Zach Mecham
I am Zach Mecham, and I was fortunate to be born a bulldog. This is not a direct reference to the school I am attending (whose mascot is the bulldog), but more a reference to the character I’ve had since I was young. Whether I was refusing to eat my vegetables or ignoring those who doubted my ability to live, work and study on campus I have lived my life refusing to compromise. This is an attitude that was facilitated by my family. Little did they know it would backfire when it came to eating my green vegetables.
As a result of this attitude, there was never any question of whether or not I would go to college or get a job, nor would I or my family have been satisfied with any less. We had decided long before I was ever accepted to Drake University that we would do whatever is necessary to accomplish these goals.
Throughout my four years, we have all made a lot of sacrifices. Between carting my xylophone and drum set back and forth to university performances or lessons, spending Saturdays at Drake football games, taking time out of the day to help me use the restroom and helping me get to bed at night; my friends and family have done a lot to make my dream possible.
As a result, I have never placed too much thought or effort into disability rights. I have always been busy fighting the uphill battle to get my education and hold down a job in a society that isn’t built for the disabled. I’m extremely proud of how far I’ve come and thank God for all he’s blessed me with, but as I near the end of my time at Drake, I’ve come to two realizations: The challenges I’ve faced and will continue to face are not necessary, and not everyone is a bulldog.
Our higher education system should not be so challenging to navigate for those who are disabled, and our social security system should be more conducive to elevating status and quality of life. When I had a personal attendant in the dorm, they were required to check in as a guest and couldn’t utilize any of the student services. When accessing a classroom on the upper level of one of the buildings, I have to use the back entrance which has no door.
When I graduate and begin working full time, I will lose access to long term benefits I currently depend on. These benefits pay for personal care and a wheelchair that exceeds $30,000. These benefits will be cut based on the principle that I can pay for them if I have a full time job, but the reality is that expectation is highly unrealistic. Most people that have a full time salary could not afford a financial burden like this.
These barriers have not and will not stop me from working. I can’t say I have everything figured out, but I am adamant about working and being a productive member of society. But what about those who weren’t raised the way I was? What about the people who aren’t bulldogs?
When these problems could be fixed simply by being more attentive to the needs of those who are disabled, there is no excuse for the difficulty we face. I will still be disabled whether I’m working or not, so why can’t we cut the tie between cash benefits and long term benefits? Why can’t we move beyond ADA compliance at universities and genuinely focus on inclusivity? We’re not asking for a “hand out.” We want an opportunity to thrive.
This is where the CareerACCESS initiative comes in. CareerACCESS is a pilot program designed to give individuals who are disabled the opportunity to work without losing benefits that are vital to their quality of life. A program like this one will allow me to work and pay taxes while receiving certain long term benefits such as Medicare/Medicaid insurance and waiver services.
With CareerACCESS, not only would I have the opportunity to work without worrying about what will happen if my wheelchair breaks down or how I’m going to pay a personal attendant; but we will all be taking a vital step towards full inclusion for those with disabilities.
When working with a disability becomes more viable, more people who have a disability will enter the workforce and it is my belief that this exposure to those who have disabilities will result in better access to higher education. Gone will be the days when only one wheelchair user attends a university of thousands of people.
This is the ambitious vision I have for the future. I hope those of you reading this can share that vision with me and join the effort. Even a voice as obnoxious as mine won’t accomplish much by itself. I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this and wish you the best.
Many people like Zach face challenges because of current Social Security disability benefits policies. You can support Zach and other young adults in similar situations by signing our CareerACCESS petition to reform current federal policies to allow young adults with disabilities to pursue their career goals and achieve independence. You can also follow CareerACCESS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and share our updates and posts.