Recently, I have intensified my employment search. As a child, I had dreams of working in medicine. Unfortunately, I am a member of a minority group that has a significant unemployment rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of those with disabilities worked in the United States in 2021. This is a slight increase from 17.9% in 2020. Why is this? In the past couple of years, I have learned why disabled people often don’t work. Typically, it’s not because those with disabilities don’t want to work.
One of the biggest reasons disabled people are unemployed is society’s attitudes towards disabled people. Disabled people can be valuable employees. However, employers must be willing to hire them first. If I disclose my disability, most of the time, people are no longer interested in interviewing me.
I’ve been told not to tell a potential employer about my disability until I’ve been invited for an interview. People with disabilities should not be afraid to apply for jobs. If they are chosen, non-disabled people can go to an interview. Usually, those who don’t have disabilities don’t have to be concerned about how they appear physically to potential employers. It should be no different for disabled people.
Sometimes employers are also unwilling to provide necessary accommodations. Having a personal care assistant available is critical to my career success. I wouldn’t be able to get to work or use the restroom if I didn’t have a PCA. I couldn’t work full time without using the bathroom during the course of a workday. Employers are not required to allow personal care help in the workplace. Even though having a personal care assistant is probably the most essential accommodation I’d need.
According to the Job Accommodation Network, “Neither the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nor Section 501 requires PAS (personal assistance services) as a reasonable accommodation, except when needed for work-related travel.” Personally, when I have applied for jobs and mentioned that I need a PCA, employers say that they cannot accommodate this.
One of the reasons many disabled people are unemployed might be overlooked. Some of us with disabilities rely on government programs like Medicaid to help us live our everyday lives. Getting dressed, eating meals, and showering are not activities people can go without. Some of these programs have limitations on how much money you can earn and how many assets you can keep. To stay alive, the system essentially requires disabled people to live in poverty. Medicaid shouldn’t be a means-tested program.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 2018, I happened to read an article about a woman named Anna Landre. Landre, who has SMA, graduated as valedictorian of her high school class in New Jersey in 2017. She was accepted to the prestigious Georgetown University located in Washington D.C. When Landre was a sophomore, 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 needed 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.
When I read Anna’s story, I suddenly realized that many people like me are forced to make difficult decisions. I started to panic. I wondered if I’d be able to work at all. I cannot lose Medicaid coverage because, without it, I’d be forced into long-term care. I don’t want to be 22-years-old and living in a nursing home.
Disabled people are capable of being valuable assets in the workplace. Employers need to embrace having those with disabilities as a part of the workforce. We can be great employees, but employers won’t know how capable we are if they never hire us.
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/.
“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.
“Personal Assistance in the Workplace.” Job Accommodation Network, Job Accommodation Network, https://askjan.org/topics/persassist.cfm.