Disability. A word with many misconceptions. It is incorrect perceptions that actually make aspects of living harder on people with disabilities. One such example, the workplace. I’ve had my disability for my entire life, I know nothing else. Still it’s not the challenge of not walking that bothers me, it’s the incorrect assumption that life with a disability is sad, difficult and other number synonyms. People with disabilities are then underestimated in education, the workplace, and various other aspects of life, but naturally some more than others.. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, so for this volume of A Wheelchair Girl’s perspective, I’m focusing on Disability in the Workplace. Intrigued?
Where We Are
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably know what I’m going to start this post off with: I was really unprepared for how my disability would affect my job prospects. I just didn’t think it would matter as much as I now know it does. I thought my education would help me get my foot in the door of the industry I wanted to work in and I could go from there. In some ways it did, I’m thankful for my internship and in others well you can guess. See, the problem was that I couldn’t get all those transferable skills that you get from the retail jobs that teens and college students, or recent graduates usually get because I couldn’t perform all the physical labor tasks of the job since I was sitting in a wheelchair. I couldn’t get that one of the most important commodities in the world of work, experience. Why am I telling you the beginning of my career journey? Simply because when it comes to the disabled population, that part of my story is not unique.
Through the experiences of friends and social media, I can tell you more stories of similar experiences of disability in the workplace, in various industries and state that when even people with disabilities pursue more certifications, masters, or go to schools for specific career, they still have to work harder than their able bodied counterparts to get a job or start on a career in their chosen field.
3 Surprising Facts About People With Disabilities & The World Of Work
- Only 21.3% of Americans age 16 and over with disabilities were working or actively looking for work, far below the 67.1% rate for Americans without disabilities. (According To National Organization Of Disability, which referenced Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics In 2021, the employment-population ratio for persons with a disability ages 16 to 64increased to 31.4 percent, while the ratio for persons without a disability in the same age group increased to 72.5 percent
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics In 2021, Workers with a disability were more likely to be employed part time than those with no disability. Among workers with a disability, 29 percent usually worked part time in 2021, compared with 16 percent of those without a disability. The proportion of workers with a disability who worked part time for economic reasons was higher than their counterparts without a disability (4 percent, compared with 3 percent). These individuals were working part time because their hours had been reduced or because they were not able to find a full-time job.
The sad fact is as you can see these facts are from once source, I’m that there are several other websites with even more, but that list seems endless.
Disability and The Workplace: The Need For Change For The Better
People with disabilities need to be able to work for the same reasons the rest of society needs to in addition to supporting themselves and family (living with a disability is expensive from mobility aids, tools and anything else someone else might need pertaining to their disability.
So how does it happen?
Disability Awareness & Changing Perceptions
The first step needs to be disability awareness and working to change perceptions and misconceptions about people with disabilities, because if that doesn’t happen people will not be open to everything else that should happen and workplaces will have people with disabilities working to fit numbers to avoid discrimination instead of real change. As an article in Forbes points out “ Bad ideas and attitudes toward disabilities can be perpetuated by systemic and structural ableism.” Believing incorrect information when it comes to the job candidate or employee with a disability may mean that a company loses out on potential candidates for a job or misses an opportunity that someone who views the world differently may see.
Listen, Learn, and Be Willing To Accommodate
Companies considering hiring a person with a disability need to be willing to listen. Yes, there are general accessible aspects that should be in place such as building or web access, but that’s not all there is to accommodations and chances are a company will have missed something specifically if they don’t have input from a member in the disability community. You often see “reasonable accommodation” in job postings, but what does that really mean: is it a retail location hiring someone who uses a wheelchair who is knowledgeable about the brand and can sell, but can’t help much with store cleanup and inventory or giving a new employee the option to work from home if needed?
There are a number of ways a company can be accommodating; they just have to put in the work to make it happen. Working from home opens up so many opportunities for people with disabilities, however, the answer was always no, until covid. During the pandemic the world figured out how to make various companies and industries work efficiently from home, and though we have been back in the workplace for a while now, yet some companies are still using remote options, it seems like the disability community had a good idea all along. If lack of awareness and opportunity weren’t enough, there’s also the pay gap between people with disabilities and those without.
The people of the disability community want to work, but the labor market won’t have them. There are barriers to employment for people with disabilities, many in fact, not only for careers, but jobs. Nevertheless, awareness of the issues and being willing to listen and learn is a good start to creating workplace environments that will welcome people with disabilities as well as show others that having a disability is not a detriment to having good job opportunities. The disability community needs and deserves change.
If you could tell companies one thing about your experience of job hunting so that others would face the same difficulties, what would you tell and/or ask of them?