CW: Mention of assisted suicide.
I remember when I was growing up, I very rarely saw characters on TV or in movies that looked like I did. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I saw the television series Speechless which featured Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy. It was the first time I saw somebody who has the same disability as I do on TV. Fowler also has Cerebral Palsy in real life. Rarely, do disabled actors play disabled characters in the media.
Most of the time, when disability is portrayed in mainstream media, it is seen as a terrible fate. Take, for example, the book Me Before You and subsequent film of the same name. The story centers around a man named Will Traynor, who develops quadriplegia following an accident. Traynor becomes very depressed, but his mood seems to lift when a beautiful young woman named Louisa Clark becomes his caregiver. In the end, Traynor decides to end his life by using assisted suicide.
This perpetuates the harmful idea that disability is worse than death. We need more positive portrayals of disability in the media. For me, disability has made my life challenging, but my life is not a tragedy. Cerebral Palsy does make my life more difficult but my life is worth living.
As I grew up, I became more aware of the fact that there were very few people who looked like me. For example, I never had a teacher who was in a wheelchair or who used a walker as I do. The older I became, the more I wondered where all of the people with disabilities were. The more research I did, the more disillusioned I became.
Unemployment of those with disabilities is a nationwide problem. In 2020, 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed, down from 19.3 percent in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February of this year. Even with a college degree, those with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than their nondisabled peers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 28.5 percent of college graduates with a disability were employed in 2018, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates.
Disabled people who are employed often make submimimum wage while working in sheltered workshops. People working in these settings make an average of just $3.34 per hour. Subminimum wage is perfectly legal, because, since 1938, U.S. labor law has carved out a rule for some people with disabilities, saying they can be paid less than minimum wage. At the time during the Great Depression, this law was actually intended to encourage the employment of more people. Disabled people deserve a fair wage, just like their non-disabled peers.
Disabled people are the world’s most significant minority. We deserve access to the same opportunities that everybody else has. Our lives are challenging, yes, but they are beautiful, and worth living.
Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse Education, Diverse Education , 5 Aug. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/151429/.
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.
Robinson, Joanna. “Could Me before You Have Avoided Alienating the Disabled Community?” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 6 June 2016, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/06/me-before-you-disabled-community-controversy.
Selyukh, Alina. “Workers with Disabilities Can Earn JUST $3.34 an HOUR. Agency Says Law Needs Change.” NPR, NPR, 17 Sept. 2020, http://www.npr.org/2020/09/17/912840482/u-s-agency-urges-end-to-below-minimum-wage-for-workers-with-disabilities.
“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.