By Robert M. Pollock
In the United States, which has a population of about 326 million persons, more than 50 million persons, or about 15.3 percent of the population, are classified as disabled. Unfortunately, this protected class is frequently discriminated against, or just simply ignored.
For example, while we regularly hear about litigation concerning the disabled, this generally involves a fairly large class of individuals or a law firm that takes a case because of a novel issue. This means that the day to day issues faced by America’s disabled are too often ignored, or just shunted aside. This especially applies to those with mental disabilities who have difficulty navigating life day to day, and more so dealing with the complexities of legal issues – or even knowing how to apply for benefits to which they are entitled.
The cost to our society by this neglect is entirely too large to quantify, but each person that does not get the care which he or she should have or is entitled to by law or should have in order to maintain a minimum standard of living costs us billions of dollars every year. This is because substantial aid must be provided to these persons when they might be gainfully employed and pay taxes, or it takes time away from their caretakers who would otherwise be employed and also pay taxes.
One only has to do a Google search on the internet to see the number of ads for disability lawyers, which many in this population cannot afford. Many non-ad web sites, including the ABA site, purport to provide information concerning the availability of legal aid to the disabled but almost invariably just provide a link to a local legal aid organization. This is fine, insofar as this goes. However, local legal aid organizations are not set-up to provide much of their services to the disabled but to all comers who have civil legal issues and generally have an income below a minimum established standard.
This limits the amount of time these local organizations have to deal with or even fully understand disability issues, given the large number of persons who need aid at any one time. This is especially true with regard to those with mental disabilities, being unable to articulate a problem or assist with any necessary action on their behalf.
Given the number of disabled in the U.S., even if a person is eligible for free legal services (assuming such services are available in their locality), the families of these persons may not be aware that there are services to which they might avail themselves; or they simply choose to go it alone, given that the limited services that may be available, are very often limited.
Those families that can afford to obtain some minimum level of legal services may choose to do so in a limited fashion, because of the financial strain on the rest of the family. As such, it is incumbent upon the legal profession to offer help in this regard. This can either be by providing individuals legal help on a client by client basis; or by becoming involved with larger issues affecting numbers individuals with disabilities.
Clearly, there is no one size fits all solution to this challenge. In fact, it may take a number of strategies and legislation in order to obtain a reasonable level of necessary legal support for this needy segment of our population. However, given the immediacy of this problem, no time should be lost.
With over 35 years of legal experience, the role that brings Robert Pollock his greatest satisfaction is helping the disabled.