I started looking for a job in December of 2019. It proved more challenging than I had expected. I knew that it was not going to be easy trying to find a job. However, I had no idea just how challenging it would be. I knew that I couldn’t do most jobs involving excessive physical activity. I use both a walker and wheelchair to get around. My disability means that working in a retail store or fast food restaurant would be difficult, if not impossible, for me.
The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2020, 17.9 percent of Americans with a disability were employed, down from 19.3 percent in 2019. Complicating matters is the fact that job descriptions often include ableist language. Examples of such language include requirements such as lifting twenty-five lbs or having a driver’s license, even if the job itself doesn’t involve driving. As in the case of being a taxi driver or a pizza delivery person. When I encountered this language in job applications, sometimes I didn’t bother to finish the job application because I knew that it was unlikely that I would be selected.
Other times, when I mentioned that I had a disability, people were no longer interested in inviting me for an interview, or I never heard back from them at all. Telling people that I have a disability began to feel like I was confessing a secret of sorts. It shouldn’t have to feel that way, especially in 2021. Disabled people are the world’s largest minority. It is also the only one that anyone can join at any given time due to illness, accident, or injury.
Some job applications even explicitly ask if applicants have a disability. This was always the most problematic question on an application for me. Cerebral Palsy is not a disability that I can hide, so I like to tell people right away. I am not ashamed that I have a disability, it is a part of who I am. It began to feel like I would never find a job.
Some of us with disabilities rely on government programs like Medicaid to help us live our lives and accomplish the essential tasks of daily living. Such tasks can include getting dressed, eating meals, and taking a shower. The problem with some of these programs is that they limit how much money you can earn and how many assets you can have. The system essentially forces disabled people to live in poverty in order to stay alive.
Take, for example, the story of Anna Landre, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Landre graduated as valedictorian of her high school class in New Jersey in 2017. When Landre was a sophomore at Georgetown University, she was elated to have an opportunity to do a paid internship. However, at the time, Landre was forced to make a devastating choice: get paid for her internship at $14.00 an hour or lose the vital personal care assistance that she needs to live. This is a choice that those with disabilities should not have to make. Just because someone needs help with their personal needs, it doesn’t mean that they can’t work.
Many disabled people want to work and can contribute in that way. We might need help to do our jobs. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be a valuable asset to our workplaces. I wish more workplaces would embrace the diversity of having those with all kinds of disabilities as a part of their workplaces.
Caprino, Kathy. “The World’s Largest Minority Might Surprise You, And How We Can Better Serve Them.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 Apr. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/04/14/the-worlds-largest-minority-might-surprise-you-and-how-we-can-better-serve-them/?sh=737aa3ca496f.
Carino, Jerry. “NJ Forces Disabled Howell Student to Make Brutal Choice: Internship or Health Aide Money.” Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park Press, 21 May 2018, http://www.app.com/story/news/local/values/2018/05/21/disabled-howell-student-nj-forces-choice-internship-health-aide/610909002/.
Lu, Wendy. “How Employers Weed Out People With Disabilities From Their Hiring Pools.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 18 June 2019, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/employers-disability-discrimination-job-listings_l_5d003523e4b011df123c640a.
“Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 Feb. 2021, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.