College Can Help Lift People Out of Poverty, but What About Disabled People?

This summer Westfield State University appointed its new president. Dr. Linda Thompson is an experienced leader in the field of education. While reading an article I came across this quote from Dr. Thompson “Education, to me, is a ticket out of poverty; it’s a ticket for creating wonderful solutions for society and for people.”

As someone with Cerebral Palsy, I immediately wondered if Dr. Thompson thought about disabled people when she made the above statement. According to a 2015 article published by NPR, those with disabilties are twice as likely to live in poverty than their nondisabled counterparts. They are also more likely to be unemployed.

Even with a college degree disabled people face a lower employment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 28.5 percent of college graduates with a disability were employed in 2018, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates. In 2020, only 17.9% of Americans with disabilities were employed. My whole purpose behind going to college was to get a job. I began to have thoughts of being an unemployed college graduate because of Cerebral Palsy. I didn’t want to have worked hard to earn a bachelor’s degree only to end up unemployed at the end of it.

I didn’t chose to go to college because I just wanted to go. To me, it wasn’t a box to be checked off. I thought it would lead to a job. Growing up, I had dreams of working in medicine. When I started college, I decided to major in communications because I enjoy the field.

I worry that I’ll never really have a fair shot at gainful employment because other people always seem more capable than me. Having a disability does not automatically make someone unemployable. Someone with a disability may be a wonderful asset to their workplace. Employers won’t know that if they don’t give disabled people a chance. Complicating matters as well is the fact that programs like vocational rehabilitation are often underfunded. Vocational rehabilitation exists to help people with disabilities gain employment and postsecondary education. When I was introduced to VR, I was brimming with hope. Initially, the vocational rehabilitation office provided a tuition waiver as well as money for the commute to and from school.

The college is approximately 50 minutes away from home, so the gasoline stipend was helpful to offset the cost of higher education. Commuting approximately 88 miles round trip gets expensive. I had found their support to be beneficial at first, and I was excited to see what sort of job supports they might be able to provide for me after finishing college. However, my counselor soon moved to a different part of the office. This meant that I would be assigned a new counselor.

I met with this new counselor once in person. I had hoped nothing would change. I soon realized that trying to get in touch with anyone at the office was nearly impossible. I left messages and e-mails that went unanswered. It became frustrating trying to reach anybody. I finally gave up on trying to pursue services through the vocational rehabilitation office.

I want disabled people to live in a world where we are valued and seen as capable employees who want to work. I need people to know that I am not lazy and have been working on finding a job for a couple of years. Cerebral Palsy doesn’t automatically mean I will do poorly at my job. However, employers won’t know that if they don’t give me and other disabled people a chance.

Sources:

Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse Education, Diverse Education , 5 Aug. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/151429/.

Fessler, Pam. “Why Disability and Poverty Still Go Hand in Hand 25 Years After Landmark Law.” NPR, NPR, 23 July 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/23/424990474/why-disability-and-poverty-still-go-hand-in-hand-25-years-after-landmark-law.

O’Brien, George, et al. “WSU’s New Leader Brings Experience in Education, Public Policy.” BusinessWest, BusinessWest, 6 July 2021, businesswest.com/blog/wsus-new-leader-brings-experience-in-education-public-policy/.

“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

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