More on employment access for people with disabilities

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I recently read an article entitled, “Can hiring one employee with a disability make a difference?”  How fantastic it is that there is more and more talk on this topic!  The article sites the employment statistics I posted here in February of this year, as well as another survey taken by the Department of Labor last year regarding the “employer perspectives on the employment of people with disabilities.”  It is that survey that I want to add my own experiences and thoughts to here.

Almost 9 years ago, I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Music, ready to tackle the world.  I was feeling a little burned out on the music scene, so I thought I’d get a job in some other field, until I decided what I wanted to do with my degree.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I had seen some discrimination all ready in school by peers and professors alike.  But I was determined to get just a normal job and prove to myself and everyone else that I could do it.  I soon discovered that I needed more than pure ambition; someone had to give me a chance, in spite of my blindness.  I also realized that finding that someone was a very difficult task.  When I went for job interviews, I had to appear extra qualified and competent, even for the simple jobs like phone sales and call center work.  I got my first job on what was termed a trial basis, because no one was sure how the technology would perform, and I was the first blind employee they had experience with.  They had hired a few people with other disabilities however, which proves the point that the Labor Department’s survey was making.  It was not a glamorous job, calling people to collect on charged off credit card debt, but it was a job and I was glad to have it and worked very hard to show them I could do it, and do it well.  A year after hiring me, once we knew how to get jaws to work with the databases used by the company, they hired another blind person in the same job capacity.  They closed their Austin location shortly after that, but hopefully took the knowledge and experience they had gained in terms of disabled employees with them, giving chances to others they encountered.

I was able to get two more similar jobs after that and worked just as hard at them as I had in my first position.  Some managers were better than others in accepting me; a few weren’t sure how to act and didn’t know what they could expect.  I did become frustrated that other departments within these companies were not accessible to me.  I guess I had thought that once I got my foot in the door doing phone work, I could move up to something more appealing eventually.  I don’t know how much of that had to do with my disability, or if that is just the way things work in call centers.  One other frustration was that most of the people I worked with did not have college degrees, and yet they were given more responsibility and money than I was.  Most likely, had I not had a degree in something, no matter how irrelevant it was to the actual job, I would not have been hired.

I think people with disabilities have to work so much harder, have more cards to lay out on the table in order to be hired.  It’s a constant game of proving yourself in absolutely everything you do.  Even being a Mom, I feel like I have to prove to those around me that I can do it well, because so many people don’t know that a disability does not make one incapable of doing every day things.  Honestly, I think many disabled people get tired of this game and decide that living unemployed with Government benefits is less stressful.  Why work so hard and accomplish little?

While I am encouraged by this article and the initiatives that have been and will be taken by President Obama, I think we should not stop there.  Simply getting people with disabilities employed isn’t enough.  We can move further by educating companies and individuals so that disabled people are not forced to constantly prove they can do the same things everyone else can do.  Don’t just give people with disabilities jobs to raise the statistical employment data, give them meaningful fulfilling work, or the chance to seek it.  Let them have the same opportunities as their peers who have similar qualifications, don’t force them to work twice as hard to reach their goals.  I know the world has been moving closer to acceptance, but there is still a long way to go.  I look forward to being part of it!

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