One of the things that irritates me the most is when people try to blame the poor economy alone for why the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is so high. You sometimes hear people say: “well, everyone is having a hard time finding a job right now.” This is partially true, jobs are scarce, there are all kinds of issues going on, it has been uncovered that there is blatant discrimination against those labeled “long term unemployed.” But it’s easy to gloss over the (sometimes subtle) disability discrimination that goes on as being just a sign of our slow economy. In the eyes of some if an “able-bodied” individual can’t get a job it’s hopeless for everyone else.
The spectre of unemployment is one that has made me scared and anxious both times I graduated college. After completing my undergrad degree I sent out close to 400 applications (along with resumes and cover letters). On one interview the person never actually brought up my cane, but didn’t stop staring at it either. On another, the interviewer brought up the fact that a lot of reading would be required in the job, more than once, along with other “important” basic job functions that were sight based. Needless to say, I didn’t get either of these positions. I eventually ended up working at IKEA, but made a desperate, last moment decision to hide my cane before going in for my interview. I felt awful for doing it, but I was desperate for a job, I had been out of school/work for 3 months and the cushion I had saved up was running out. I got that job and showed up to my first day of work with my cane and a confused manager. I felt like I got the job fraudulently because I hid a vital aspect of who I was. I worked there for a year before going back to graduate school.
After getting my MA I was in a similar situation as when I finished my BA. I had started the hunt early, but wasn’t having any luck, I had some interviews, one of which actually casually brought up my eyesight after the interview attempting to empathize by telling me she had macular degeneration. I didn’t get that job regardless of being qualified and available. At one local college I interviewed at I was asked to do a teaching demo, so I went home and prepared four different versions of a lesson with materials and everything, when I showed up a book was thrust at me (which was in a print too small for me to read) and I was given 10 minutes to prepare a lesson on the fly. When I asked for a larger print copy I was told they couldn’t do that. I suffered through the demo doing what I could with what I was given and what I could read. It was a disaster.
This types of situations aren’t things that many have to worry about. a not-yet-disabled individual doesn’t have to worry about being “weeded out” in the interview process, nor do they have to fear being rejected after an interview because the company thinks accommodations are going to cost too much. The company is shielded because they’ll say they found a “more qualified candidate,” which is generally a lie. So, basically, the economy may play a part in the lack of jobs an employment opportunities, but societal and attitudinal barriers continue to be more of a problem. I tend to think of these barriers as our arch-enemies, they’ve been fighting with us for a long time and it’s going to take a major plot twist to eliminate them. I’m ready for the employment dilemma plot twist, something major needs to happen to open up the job market to all.