Recently, I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity that many people with disabilities do not get. I was hired for my first job. Starting in a few days I will begin training, and then start a job that will not only allow me to gain experience in a work environment, but that I will be paid for.
This is so exciting for me for so many reasons, not the least of which is that this is a great way to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act tomorrow. As I said, this is something that many people with disabilities do not get to experience, and for that reason I am doubly grateful for the ability to become independent in this way.
On average the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is double that of people who do not live with disabilities, a fact that makes my getting a job all the more important to me. I understand that it truly is an accomplishment and something that I should be proud of.
I have been very fortunate in that this has not been my only accomplishment in an area where few people with disabilities are successful. I was also able to graduate high school, then attend college (where I received a bachelor’s degree) and get married. I am very aware that achieving all of these goals puts me in a very small minority among the disability community. It is for that reason that I bring them up and why I feel compelled to share my story.
In no way am I trying to brag or make others who have not yet done these things feel badly about themselves. I am instead trying to emphasize the fact that I should not be in the minority for doing things that people without disabilities are doing. It should not be so difficult for other members of the disability community to be as successful as they choose to be and to achieve any goal they set for themselves. The fact remains however, that it is difficult, so difficult, for many to do these things.
The reasons for this seem endless. Low high school graduation rates for students with disabilities, which leads to fewer attending college. Of those that attend college, many do not complete their course of study, either due to lack of sufficient support, or the skills needed to be successful in college courses. For those that do, upon graduation they are met with the daunting task of securing employment in a job market that is less than inviting.
That was the situation I was in for over a year. I’d done fairly well in high school, gone on to college and graduated with my degree. Not only that, but my résumé listed several examples of experience I’d gained outside of my studying.
Still I found the task of finding and applying to jobs more than I could handle most days. In the back of my head was the constant thought that I hadn’t done enough, I wasn’t going to be good enough, or worse, that I was good enough but my having a disability would be the reason I got passed over.
It was only after I entered career counseling that I was able to see the flaw in my thinking and develop positive habits that eventually had me in a rhythm of job searching, putting in applications and following up on interviews. The small successes I had through this process built my confidence in interviews and allowed me to better sell my attributes and skills to prospective employers. This is what ultimately lead to me accepting a job offer with a company that I am confident I will be a good fit with.
Regardless of the numerous barriers (both physical and societal) to higher education and employment, I firmly believe that the cultivation of a strong support system is a good first step to achieving whatever goal a person sets for themselves. Whether it be family and friends or service based, building relationships with people who are just as invested in seeing you succeed as you are is a vital piece to your ultimate success. They will build you up and be a sound board for new ways of getting past road blocks in your progress.
It is unlikely that equal footing will happen for people with disabilities in higher education and the job market over night. There will likely always be some type of barriers to be gotten over. But it can be done. Someone else proves that every day. It is my hope that we all will some day, and that we’ll all be able to look back on the other side of the statistics that showed people with disabilities so poorly represented.