I am currently 22-years-old. Unlike many people my age, I have never held a paying job. Growing up, I was on a pretty level playing field with my non-disabled peers. The older I became, it felt like I was on the outside looking in. When I graduated from high school, I had hopes of going on to receive a bachelor’s degree from a local university. Throughout my educational career, people were often surprised that I did well in school. It was then that I realized many people don’t have high expectations for those with disabilities. Cerebral Palsy made some subjects more challenging, but I worked hard. I always enjoyed school.
I knew I wasn’t going to go to Harvard University or Yale, but I knew I wanted a college education. I had heard that if people my age didn’t go to college they would be stuck in menial jobs for the rest of their lives. I didn’t want to be working at a fast food restaurant as an adult. I thought about becoming a computer programmer or something similar. I wanted to be able to make a decent living and hopefully not live paycheck to paycheck. Especially because living with a disability can be expensive.
According to the National Disability Institute, researchers estimate that households containing an adult with a disability require, on average, 28 percent more income (or an additional $17,690 a year for a family at the median income level) to obtain the same standard of living as a comparable household without a member with a disability.
When I discovered that a local university had a strong history of supporting disabled students I was ecstatic. During my freshman year of college, I tried to utilize my university’s career center. The staff seemed surprised that I was interested in finding a job or internship. I tried to pursue a work experience with a local publisher that summer. However, the location was physically inaccessible to me.
After this, I began to research the employment statistics of disabled people in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of people with disabilities (regardless of education level) worked in 2021. This is a slight increase from 17.9 percent in 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that 28.5 percent of college graduates with a disability were employed in 2018, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates. Reading these statistics made me question why I’d pursued a college education, to begin with.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made college much harder. Prior to the pandemic I was struggling with severe mental health issues and wanted to take the semester off anyway. It was more difficult to obtain my disability accommodations in the fall of 2020 and I didn’t receive the same quality of education from home. After trying this, I took the spring semester off. Due to payment issues, I took the fall semester off this year.
I was eager to return to my studies this spring. A couple of weeks before the semester began, I realized that I hadn’t been registered for my full course load. This was despite sending numerous emails and meeting with an advisor via Zoom. I decided not to continue attending that university. It was difficult because I felt like nobody at the university cared about me. I felt forgotten about.
Disabled people deserve to have bright futures. They shouldn’t have to wonder if they’ll be discriminated against. I would love to see a day where the vast majority of us are employed. I’ve applied to numerous jobs, and only received a handful of interviews. When I disclose my disability people don’t want to interview me. Disabled people can be so talented. Employers won’t know this if they refuse to hire disabled employees. Please give us a chance.
Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse Education, Diverse Education, 5 Aug. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/151429/.
Goodman, Nanette, et al. “The Extra Costs of Living with a Disability in the U.S. — Resetting the Policy Table.” National Disability Institute, National Disability Institute, Oct. 2020, www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/extra-costs-living-with-disability-brief.pdf.
“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.