The last time I felt I was equal to everyone else was in June of 2018. I was accepted to Westfield State University and was eager to begin the next chapter of my life. I was looking forward to leaving my high school years behind and experiencing new things. My freshman year went well, and I contributed to the campus newspaper.
My freshman year was not without its challenges, though. I went through a new PCA both semesters. This was a frustrating and unfamiliar experience for me. In addition to being nervous about college life, I was afraid I would be late for class.
Toward the end of that year, I went to the career center on campus in hopes of gaining experience to add to my résumé. The staff was surprised to see me there, and I felt like I wasn’t welcome there. After looking at various opportunities, I contacted a woman who runs a publishing company. I was disappointed to learn that her office is inaccessible.
I started doing some research on people with disabilities in the workplace. I grew increasingly discouraged as I conducted more research. In 2021, 19.1 percent of people with disabilities worked in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When I saw that statistic on the internet, my heart sank. I began to wonder why I’d gone to college at all. I didn’t want to end up unemployed after working hard to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Nobody had ever told me about workplace discrimination when I was growing up. I assumed that because discrimination was illegal, it would not happen to me. I was heartbroken to learn that this wasn’t the case. Discrimination occurs all the time.
I began looking for work in December 2019. Nearly three years later I’m still unemployed. As soon as an employer finds out that I have Cerebral Palsy, they no longer want to interview me. I couldn’t even get a job at the local Stop and Shop because their punch clock is upstairs in the employee breakroom. I was turned down for a job at the front desk of a local gym because I can’t lift 30 lbs. Ableism is unfortunately rampant in the world of employment.
As an adult, I have also been forced to navigate bureaucratic systems to figure out how to live life. Some of us with disabilities rely on government programs such as Medicaid to live our daily lives. People cannot function without getting dressed, eating meals, and showering. Government programs often impose restrictions on the amount of money you can earn and the number of assets you can keep. The system ultimately forces disabled people to live in poverty to survive. Programs should not be based on income because disabled people should be able to work and not lose crucial benefits such as health insurance.
Like most young adults, I also began to think about moving out. I knew I didn’t want to end up living in a nursing home. This is one of my biggest fears as someone with a disability. Going into a nursing home would be heartbreaking. I wouldn’t be able to visit family and friends whenever I wanted or even choose want I wanted for dinner. I wouldn’t be able to go out to the mall or the movie theater.
It isn’t easy to find accessible housing, which complicated my search. Apartment List conducted a study utilizing data from the American Community Survey and the American Housing Survey in February of 2020. Only 9% of households with a disabled person live in an accessible home, according to the study. Although more than 15% of households in the United States include a physically disabled member, just 6% of homes are accessible.
I was eventually able to find an accessible apartment. It is located on the first floor, and I had a ramp installed. Later this year, I plan to make my apartment even more accessible by installing a roll-in shower and grab bars in the bathroom. The bathroom is the most inaccessible area in my apartment right now, and I hope to make it more accessible soon.
In the future, I hope to be able to work, perhaps get married, and have kids as well. I need to figure out how to accomplish my goals as someone with Cerebral Palsy. Relationships have been particularly difficult to navigate. I created an online dating profile a few years ago, but no one was really interested in knowing me. People didn’t want to get to know a young woman with Cerebral Palsy. I hope that I have a meaningful relationship with someone in the future.
Disabled people worldwide face various challenges when trying to live their lives. Cerebral Palsy should not stop me from living my life to the fullest and participating in society. I want to live life like anybody else. Disabled people deserve the same opportunities as anyone else, and it’s time for the world to understand that.
“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.
Warnock, Rob. “How Accessible Is the Housing Market?” Apartment List , Apartment List, 19 February, 2020, http://www.apartmentlist.com/research/how-accessible-is-the-housing-market.