22: What Were You Thinking About?

At 22-years-old what were you thinking about? I am 22-years-old right now. I am currently looking for work. I have been looking for work since I was 19 and haven’t had any luck. I couldn’t even get a job at Wendy’s or McDonald’s. My biggest fear is that I’ll never find work.

I have never held a paying job. It is difficult in today’s economy for anybody to find a job, but especially for those with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of those with disabilities worked in the United States in 2021. That percentage needs to be much higher than it is, particularly because it’s 2022. Disabled people deserve to be employed just like non-disabled people. 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.

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. Those without disabilities don’t work in sheltered workshops sometimes making pennies an hour. Those with disabilities shouldn’t have to be worried about if they will be paid a fair wage.

I’ve often thought about getting married in the future as well. Some of my peers are already married or engaged to someone. A couple of years ago I happened to read about the marriage penalty. Some disabled people who rely on programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income or SSI cannot legally marry without their benefits being impacted or taken away entirely. Our society won’t allow disabled people to marry without fear of losing their benefits which they cannot live without. If I were to marry, I would risk my Medicaid insurance being taken away.

MassHealth, which is my state’s Medicaid program pays for my PCA hours. I couldn’t live independently without the support of PCAs. I’d be forced to go into a nursing home without that support, which actually would cost much more than living at home. Most 22-year olds don’t wonder if they’ll end up living in a nursing home.

As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve often thought about having children later on in life too. I do wonder if society would deem me unfit for motherhood because of my Cerebral Palsy. Having a disability doesn’t automatically make a woman unfit for motherhood. Although there have been cases such as that of Kaney O’Neill, who is a quadriplegic where a disabled woman has had to prove that she is fit for the duties of motherhood to have custody of her child.

When I think about my future, it concerns me that I will probably never have all of the same opportunities non-disabled people have. I want to live life like anyone else does. Cerebral Palsy shouldn’t prevent me from being able to live my life to the fullest and being able to participate in society. I want to be able to pay taxes, vote in elections, be employed, and live life like anyone else.


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

Brownstein, Joseph. “Quadriplegic Mother Fights for Custody of Son.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 Dec. 2009, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/quadraplegic-mother-fights-maintain-custody-son/story?id=9403163.

“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.

Pendo , Elizabeth. “Blocked from the Ballot Box: People with Disabilities.” Americanbar.org, American Bar Association , 25 June 2020, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/voting-in-2020/blocked-from-the-ballot-box/.

Ridge, Tom. “It’s Time to End Subminimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 10 Feb. 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/02/09/why-subminimum-wage-people-disabilities-should-end-tom-ridge-column/4447692001/.

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.

Star, Eryn. “Marriage Equality Is Still Not a Reality: Disabled People and the Right to Marry.” Advocacy Monitor, National Council on Independent Living, 14 Nov. 2019, advocacymonitor.com/marriage-equality-is-still-not-a-reality-disabled-people-and-the-right-to-marry/.

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