As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt like Cerebral Palsy makes me a second-class citizen. Sometimes, ableism limits me more than my disability itself. Ableism shouldn’t make me feel like I don’t belong in the world.
In school, the staff often held me to a different standard than my peers. Some people were overly impressed when I had good grades. It was as if a disabled student wasn’t expected to do well. Adults always wanted me to make friends. Socialization seemed to be a concern up until my last year of high school. Efforts to help me make friends had the opposite effect.
Inspiration porn doesn’t make inclusion any easier. Every year, stories go viral on social media about teenagers with disabilities going to prom. Does society have such low expectations for people with disabilities that some of us going to prom need to make the news every year? Going to prom is a rite of passage for many teenagers. Teenagers with disabilities are still teenagers.
As an adult, Cerebral Palsy has made me feel left behind more than ever before. Inclusion is talked about for children. However, it doesn’t seem to matter much once children reach adulthood. People don’t outgrow their disabilities on their 18th birthday. A child with Cerebral Palsy is an adult with Cerebral Palsy. A child with autism is an adult with autism.
For me, adulthood has been a lonely, isolating experience. It’s hard for me to see other 22-year-olds who are employed. It’s even harder to see younger people working. Everybody tells me to remain optimistic. It is hard to remain optimistic when you realize that the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities was nearly 81% last year. In other words, people without disabilities are three times more likely to be employed than those with disabilities. I wonder if I’ll ever find a job at this point.
I grew up hearing that if you’re a disabled person in the United States who relies on government assistance such as Medicaid, it’s virtually impossible to live over the poverty line. When I was younger, I never truly believed this. However, the more difficult situations that disabled people like myself are required to handle, the more I realize how pernicious these systems are and how challenging it is to maintain a standard of living over the poverty line when you require the level and quantity of care that I and others like me require.
I rely on Medicaid to pay for my PCA services. My PCAs help me get dressed, go to the bathroom, and prepare my meals. I would be unable to work without PCA services. I couldn’t work 40 hours a week without using the bathroom. When I request a PCA as an accommodation, it is always denied. Without support in the workplace, people like me will be unemployed for the rest of their lives. Just because I need help with activities of daily living doesn’t mean that I can’t work.
Ableism has made me feel unworthy since I was a child. Society needs to understand that people with disabilities are human beings who deserve the same opportunities as non-disabled people. With how much ableism is prevalent in society, it’s no surprise that ableism tricks us into believing we are less worthy because of our disabilities. Society tells us this from the time we are young. We are people just like you, and we aren’t going anywhere.
Ives-Rublee, Mia, et al. “Removing Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the U.S. Labor Market.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 23 May 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/removing-obstacles-for-disabled-workers-would-strengthen-the-u-s-labor-market/.
“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