There’s More to the Disability Employment Issue Than Most Abled People Realize

In January, I had to resign from my teaching job due to my disability. It broke my heart to leave the students I considered “my babies,” but I had reached a point where I couldn’t get through a whole day of work without crying from the pain. In fact, most days, by the time I left the school, I could barely move.

If you haven’t read my bio yet, let me give you a nutshell description of my particular “flavor” of disability. I am physically disabled in that I have psoriatic arthritis that is attacking my thoracic spine, lower back, and hips. Bone is deteriorated, cartilage is gone, bones are fusing together – it’s a hot mess, to be blunt. Whether I am medicated or not, I hurt at all times. Continuing to teach at-risk youth who need me constantly leaning over them, squatting beside them, moving technology from a storage space on the upper floors down to my room, etc., was no longer an option. There were also some other things going on behind the scenes once I got diagnosed that made staying impossible. So, with heavy heart, I resigned.

I have been looking for another job for three months. I have been very open about the fact that I am disabled because I do not want to get into a situation where I waste my time and gas to go to an interview with a company that is not willing to make accommodations for disability. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that companies must make reasonable accommodations, corporations find ways to get around it. The language of the ADA is vague enough that companies can use the term “reasonable accommodation”, which can be quite subjective, to state they cannot make the accommodations that a person with disabilities has made. As has been pointed out, corporations have built physical requirements into their job descriptions that are exclusionary for people with disabilities (even when the physical requirement has nothing to do with doing the advertised job). I have a Master’s degree. I am currently looking for positions which utilize my experience as an education data analyst, administrative assistant, project manager, journalist, graphic designer, and writer, but I am increasingly running into physical requirements that I be able to stoop, carry 50+ pounds, stand and/or walk for long periods, and a host of other silly things that have nothing to do with the actual duties of the jobs for which I am applying.

Additionally, I am encountering another problem. I will apply for a job, have a recruiter or executive call me back very excited about my resume and cover letter, go through the whole phone-interview process, when it comes to that inevitable part:

“Now that I’ve talked about the job and what we are looking for, do you have any questions before we set up an in-person interview?” faceless employer asks.

I take a deep breath and reply, “Actually, yes. Your job description states a person in this job needs to carry 50+ lbs/walk and stand all day/etc., but I would like clarification as to how important this is for the position. Could you please explain how this requirement relates to the position as a whole?”

“Well, you know, just in case we need you to help with something else at some distant point in the future. Why do you ask?”

“Well, is it a deal-breaker? You see, I have a physical disability that prevents me from doing those extremely physical aspects of your job posting. I can do the computer- and phone-based work just fine. In fact, I can do everything listed EXCEPT carry 50+ lbs/stand and walk all day/etc.”

“Well, uh, hmm, I…” (clears throat nervously, stammers out a few words) “You know, those are good questions. Let me check on that and we’ll get back to you on it. Thanks for your time.”

“But wait,” I say, confusedly. “What about the in-person interview you said you wanted to schedule?”

*click*

Then, a few days will go by, and I will either not hear anything, or I will get a generic email thanking me for my time, but stating I am either “over qualified,” “under qualified,” or the company is “pursuing candidates who more closely match our vision for the position.” At one point, I got two separate rejection emails from the same company – one stated I was under qualified, the other that I was overqualified. Both emails were regarding the same position.

So, it wasn’t so much that my academic or experiential qualifications were in question, I get the feeling it has more to do with the fact that I’m “too disabled” for the position.

This mode of thinking among abled employers is a major barricade to persons with disabilities being able to secure positions in the workforce. Many people assume the problem is lack of skills or ability, when in fact the only thing limiting us is how abled people think of persons with disabilities.

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