Over nearly three years, I have struggled to become gainfully employed. Unfortunately, because of CP, 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.
Employers often don’t even want to interview me once they find out I have a disability. I have often been told that I’d be a liability for an employer. In the right environment, those with disabilities can be wonderful employees. However, if we can’t even land an interview, it’s impossible to show that to employers.
When I was in college, I went to the career center in hopes of finding a summer internship or job. The staff seemed surprised that I was looking for an opportunity. I pursued a bachelor’s degree to end up employed at the end of it. My heart sunk when I read this statistic on the internet; in 2018, 28.5 percent of college graduates with disabilities were employed, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sometimes people are surprised when I mention that I want to work. My disability doesn’t prevent me from working. I don’t need too many accommodations, but it feels like I’m asking for too much. The most crucial one is the need for a personal care assistant in the workplace. Personally, when I have applied for jobs and mentioned that I need a PCA, employers say that they cannot accommodate this. Needing help with activities of daily living doesn’t mean that someone with a disability can’t work.
I have never felt more ashamed of my Cerebral Palsy than when looking for a job. I wish that I could hide my mobility aids. I can’t help that I have a disability, but the fact that Cerebral Palsy has been a barrier to employment saddens me. It doesn’t match up with what I was told throughout my childhood. I was told that if I worked hard and received a bachelor’s degree, I’d be able to land a well-paying job. I was told that if I didn’t get a bachelor’s degree, I would be stuck working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. McDonald’s was one of the first places I applied for a job. I was turned down because of my disability. I couldn’t even get a job where 16-year-olds work.
Discrimination based on disability is supposed to be illegal, but it happens anyway. My family and friends even told me that employers wouldn’t discriminate against me. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that this wasn’t true. However, when I was on social media, I discovered that many of my fellow disabled people have also been discriminated against or they are unemployed. It was comforting to know that I’m not alone.
I have been rejected from Walmart, McDonald’s, Stop and Shop, and Trader Joe’s, among dozens of other employers. I have even been rejected for secretarial positions, and other desk jobs. In the meantime, I am living off a monthly SSI check, which helps me stay afloat. SSI provides a maximum of $794 a month for a single person. If I didn’t have a roommate, I wouldn’t be able to live independently. I wish employers knew that many disabled people want to work. We need employers to understand that a disability doesn’t automatically mean that someone is unemployable.
Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse Education, Diverse Education, 5 Aug. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/151429/.
Bauer, Brandy. “SSI vs. SSDI: the Differences, Benefits, and How to Apply.” The National Council on Aging, The National Council on Aging, 16 Mar. 2022, https://www.ncoa.org/article/ssi-vs-ssdi-what-are-these-benefits-how-they-differ.
“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.