There’s No Map For Disabled Adulthood:

Growing up, I  knew working hard in school was the first step in leading a successful life. From the time I was young, I wanted to have a career I could enjoy, and make a living from. I had no idea what challenges would await me when I became an adult. 

The last time I had hope for my future was in 2018. I graduated from high school with honors and had been accepted to a few different universities. I chose to attend Westfield State University. Westfield State had a good disability services office, and I was eager to start the next chapter of my life. My lifelong dream of a college education was finally taking shape. 

I arrived on campus in the fall. I didn’t know what degree I wanted to pursue.  After my first semester, I decided to major in communications. I wanted to become a journalist or news reporter.  I have always enjoyed writing. I did well academically and even began writing for the campus newspaper. However, my freshman year wasn’t without its challenges. I went through two PCAs that year. My mom and a friend filled in when my PCAs were unavailable. I didn’t want to burden my mother with helping me at college. I knew she had to work full time to pay the bills. This was the first time I began to question whether or not a college education was for me or even if it was worth the logistical challenges I faced at the time. 

After my freshman year, I began looking for experience to add to my résumé. I contacted a local woman who runs a publishing business. Unfortunately, the location isn’t wheelchair accessible. I felt defeated. After this, I began to research statistics on the employment of disabled people in America. The more research I did, the more discouraged I became. It saddened me when I started to read statistics. The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 19.1% of people with disabilities in the United States will work in 2021. This means that roughly 80% of disabled Americans are unemployed. I began to wonder why I’d gone to college at all.

I began intensifying my employment search in December of 2019. I had elected to take a semester off from college to focus on treating my depression. I had hoped to work and save up for the future. I was still living at home, and wanted to save up for my own apartment eventually. I submitted job applications to supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, and retail stores. I thought I had the best chance with these types of jobs, because they require little to no experience.

Rejection e-mails started to fill up my inbox. Particularly, when I disclosed my disability, interview offers were rescinded. I was determined not to give up. Nearly three years later, I am still unemployed. This has made me question my worth as a human being. It’s difficult not to take rejections personally. If I were non-disabled, I probably would have landed a job by now. I’m 22-years-old and have never had a job. You can imagine how hard it is for me to see people my age and younger working full or part-time.

In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. This turned life upside down. I couldn’t see my friends and family and couldn’t go out. In August of that year, I was informed that the fall semester would be entirely remote. Remote learning didn’t work well for me. I missed eating lunch in the dining hall and studying in the library. Disability services were also much harder to access. I decided to take the spring semester off. I was eager to start classes again this past fall. However, due to my semester bill being paid late, I had to take the fall semester off. In November of 2021, I submitted my paperwork.

I emailed my advisor multiple times with my course selection. She never responded to my emails. After Christmas, I finally met with my advisor to register for classes. Nearly a week passed, and I discovered that I’d never been registered for all of my classes. My mother called the university, and I found out that the administrative assistant was sick. I was very overwhelmed and upset by the experience. It made me lose interest in college.

I’m currently deciding what I want to do with my life. I’d love to work or volunteer but nothing has panned out yet. I’m hoping to get a position as a peer counselor at the Stavros Center For Independendent Living. I want my purpose in life to be meaningful. If I go back to college, I want to be in an environment where I feel supported to pursue my degree. Unfortunately, Westfield State University didn’t offer that to me.

Recently, more opportunities have opened up for me. In June of last year I began this blog. I wanted a way to share my experiences with the world. Through social media, I have connected with a wonderful community of disabled people. I finally feel like I belong somewhere. I also published an opinion piece in the local newspaper this past August. Right now, I’m blogging regularly while continuing to look for work.

I hate to admit it, but right now, I wonder if I’m worthy of employment. Blogging has allowed me to share my experiences with the world. One day I hope to turn writing into a career. I’d love to be an author, and dream of publishing a book someday. I’m not going to give up on my dream of being an author and an advocate for disabled people.

Sources:

“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.

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