If you have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have struggled for a long time to become gainfully employed. I know that I am not the only disabled person who struggles with this. Statistics also show that disabled people are often unemployed or underemployed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of people with disabilities in the United States worked in 2021, up from 17.9 percent in 2020, which means that approximately 80% of disabled people are unemployed. Even college graduates with disabilities are less likely to be employed. 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.
When I eventually become employed, I want to be paid a fair wage like any employee. I don’t like the idea of being paid less just because of my cerebral palsy. I cannot help that I have a disability, and I shouldn’t be paid less because of it.
Cerebral Palsy doesn’t prevent me from being employed. I will need accommodations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work. Hopefully, I’ll find an employer who is inclusive and understands my needs. I deserve to be treated just like any other employee. Needing assistive technology or other accommodations in the workplace doesn’t make an employee less important.
At 22-years-old I have never held a paying job. Many of my peers have worked in some capacity already. I’ve been rejected from supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, movie theaters, retail, and other entry-level positions. I was even turned down at Walmart for a greeter position. Employers don’t even want me to come in for an interview if I mention CP. I wish more employers could embrace having disabled people as part of their teams. Disabled people have so many different talents and skills. Employers will never know this if disabled people aren’t welcome in their workplaces. If disabled people aren’t given a chance, they’ll be stuck. I’d like the opportunity to work for a living.
I am currently on Supplemental Security Income, which allows me to pay for rent and other expenses while looking for work. However, I’d like to become gainfully employed within the next few years. I have also tried working with the local vocational rehabilitation office. Due to high turnover and unresponsive staff this has been unsuccessful. In the time that I worked with VR, I went through three different counselors.
Disabled people are an untapped source of talent. We have so much to offer to the world. It’s 2022; disabled people deserve to be employed just like anybody else is. We also need to show the younger generation of disabled people that in many cases it is possible to be employed. It would have meant so much to me to see more disabled people employed in their communities when I was younger. Disabled people are living in your communities, and they deserve to be seen.
Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse Education, Diverse Education , 5 Aug. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/151429/.
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 – 2021.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.