My first job was with an after school program tutoring middle school aged kids. I started a little over a year after I graduated college. That interview was only the second I’d gotten at that point, but I’d applied for at least a hundred different positions.
I’ll admit part of my lack of success was probably due to the fact that I was trying to distance myself as much as possible from the field I’d gotten my degree in. I was also unsure of the direction I was trying to take away from said field. But I have my suspicions it also had something to do with the application process.
On nearly every application there was a section where you could voluntarily disclose a disability. I did this on every application where I was given the option. I figured if I got as far as an interview, my wheelchair was already going to disclose for me so I may as well do it myself.
When I did finally get an interview I made a point of saying how much I appreciated being given the opportunity, explaining briefly how hard it had been to even get that far. I ended up being hired and working for the program for the duration of the next school year. I then got an interim position at a Boys and Girls Club for the summer, with the intention of going back to the program in the fall.
In the words of Ferris Bueller, life comes at you fast. I ended up being offered a different position with a non-profit where I didn’t even get through the probation period before health issues eventually led to my being let go. That was almost four years ago.
This is my job history. It’s not what most would call impressive. But it’s more successful than a lot of disabled people, many of whom try for much longer than I did with no luck. Even more are more talented and qualified than me by far. Still, they can’t get hired.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate for disabled people is somewhere around seven percent, making it comparable to the unemployment rate of non disabled people. But there’s a disparity few people are aware of. Upwards of seventy percent of non disabled people of working age are employed, compared to only around thirty percent of disabled people.
There are plenty of reasons why this might be the case: lower high school graduation rates, lower college attendance and graduation rates, lack of access to transportation, inadequate home health care, the list goes on. All of these reasons stem from systematic barriers caused by societal Ableism. That’s not even taking into account discrimination in the workplace.
Going back to the application process for a second, many of the questions or requirements we view as commonplace are rooted in Ableism. One example is the ability to lift x amount of weight or perform other physical tasks not related to the job. Possession of a valid driver’s license or “dependable transportation” is another. All of these questions are used to weed out disabled people from the hiring process.
If a person does manage to get hired after disclosing their disability, they are often met with resistance or refusal when they request accommodations. Not to mention the, very real, possibility of a person acquiring a disability or illness and being unable to do their job in the same way they had previously. Regardless, it’s not uncommon for employers to claim providing accommodations would create undue hardship for themselves or the company.
All of these barriers and so many others exist when it comes to employment for disabled people. Thirty years on from the passing of the Americans with Disabilities act and the vast majority of the community isn’t even counted in the unemployment rate because they’ve given up the job search. So much skill and talent is being overlooked, so much passion and drive untapped. It’s beyond time things changed.