Why are so many people with disabilities unemployed?

This is my post for the annual Blogging Against Disablism Day put on by the excellent Diary of a Goldfish!


As graduation is coming up and many of us are looking for jobs, I wanted to share some thoughts on the greatly documented high unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Currently, the unemployment rates are as follows according to the US Department of Labor:

Unemployment Rate

People with disabilities: 15.2%
People without disabilities: 8.1%

It seems as if there are three factors that relate to this-academic barriers, place of employment barriers, and societal attitude barriers. I will argue that many steps are in place to rectify the first two barriers, and as a society, we need to develop a solution for the third.

The first factor, academic barriers, surely still prevents many people disabilities from pursuing higher education. Even when services are in place for students with disabilities, it is time-consuming and sometimes emotionally draining to advocate for oneself. However, places of higher education seem to be constantly trying to improve their services for students with disabilities. This is in some cases due to governmental regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. As more people are going to college overall, colleges are recognizing the need to be more inclusive (and get more students to pay tuition!). At my college, disability services arranges for notetakers, helps students receive accommodations in their classes, and recommends assistive technologies. Through the state, I receive funding for a personal caretaker to help me live independently. Therefore, more so than it was in the past, gaining higher education is attainable for people with disabilities.

In addition, there has also been much improvement to rid place of employment barriers for people with disabilities. This is also partially thanks to the ADA. When I had an internship at a medium-sized company this past summer, my disability was a nonissue. It was never brought up during interviewing, and since I had never had a real job in a real workplace, human resources helped me figure out which accommodations were necessary. They went above and beyond what I expected, and even installed a door opener so I could get into the workplace independently! Since it was an engineering internship and I was designing physical projects, I was worried about how they would get built. However, they had just hired another manufacturer for the engineering department who was able to physically assemble my project. Of course, there is often still hiring discrimination and smaller companies who are not versed in the possibilities of hiring people with disabilities, but once again, it seems that society is slowly developing better accommodations in workplaces for people with disabilities.

In no way do I want to minimize the academic and place of employment barriers that still exist for people with disabilities. They surely do, and we must enact change whether it is physical or attitude based. However, I argue that societal views are the number one greatest cause for the high unemployment rate people with disabilities. This factor is twofold-the views of society in general and the views of people with disabilities themselves. Concerning society in general, while I was at the top of my high school class, many well-meaning members of my community were incredulous that I would be going to college at all, let alone pursuing a difficult degree. I could have adopted the attitude that people with disabilities cannot achieve anything. The views of society in general shape the views of people in disabilities. I’ve met many people disabilities who do not have high standards for themselves, because of the lack of confidence. Other people have never asked them about their future aspirations or encouraged them to walk the more difficult road of going to college and achieving a self-supporting job. There is an excellent article from UC Berkeley detailing this attitude linked here.

I’m not entirely certain what the best solution to this issue will be. This is sort of like the problem of fewer women in engineering. If more women worked in engineering, then students would see these women and gain confidence that they can do those jobs as well. However, it is a vicious circle. If you have any ideas or resources that are helpful, please share them!

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Law School-Much Easier the Second Time Around

As promised, here is my post about getting into law school!

As you can see from the title, preparing for law school has been much easier than planning for undergrad. Obviously, once you have done something, it is easier the next time you attempt it. I have more expectations of the services I will need and what I need to plan for when I start law school.

Here’s a comparison of accommodations I am making for myself between undergrad and law school

PCA Services

Undergrad-I turned 18 in May before I started my freshman year, and then I was eligible to get on my state health-care plan which funds personal care attendants. I use a wheelchair full time, and because of my disability, there was no way I could take care of myself and I needed someone to help me get out of bed, get ready in the morning, help me with meals, and the list goes on. So, I had to apply with the state (which included much unnecessary and slow paperwork), find a PCA agency that would actually pay my PCAs, and hire PCAs. Unfortunately, since I was not from the cities, I had to immediately put up flyers when I started college and hire people. Then, I had to wait for the agency to perform a background check and have the state approved my hires. Currently, it takes about two months for people to get their provider number through the state, but back then it took about two weeks. I can’t imagine it taking two months now, as my mother had stay with me (we have relatives nearby where she could sleep) and help me throughout the day. Even with all my PCAs hired and approved through the state, it was an incredible transition since my family had helped me my whole life, and now I was in charge of many HR duties including training, timesheet management, and scheduling. I have no idea how I made it through freshman year.

Law school-At this time, managing PCA services is sort of second nature. I know how many PCAs I need, how to schedule them throughout the day, how to train them, and even how to fire them. Since most of my PCAs are graduating as well, I will unfortunately have to hire new staff, but since I will be at a large university, I am hoping to have many applicants. Since it does take two months for people to become approved and I am sure my mom does not want to help me at the beginning of law school, I will be putting up flyers around spring break, interviewing people, and hiring them before I graduate. Hopefully this works!


Undergrad-Since I have lived on campus all four years, this has actually been somewhat easy. Of course, I have to deal with residence life and make sure that my accommodations are met, but there has always been accessible housing available. I currently live in a swanky apartment that I will be sad to leave.

Law school-Since my law school does not provide on-campus housing for law students, I was very nervous about finding accessible housing. I don’t really know a lot about my housing rights, but I have heard that finding accessible housing is difficult. Fortunately, mostly through chance, I found an apartment building incredibly close to the law school that has an accessible apartment. Since it is so close, I will not have to deal with transportation since I can’t drive myself and I will not have to navigate snowy sidewalks. So, I signed my lease! It’s very nice to have this taken care of.

Classroom Accommodations

Undergrad-The disability services director at my undergraduate university is amazing! She made registering for the program incredibly easy, and has always been extremely flexible and innovative with accommodation ideas. I have never felt like there was an unequal playing field between myself and able-bodied students.

Law school-Since this is a larger university, they have a very formal program in place. I haven’t signed up with the program yet, but I’m sure that they will be able to provide all the accommodations that I need.

So, these are just a few of the differences between undergraduate and law school. I’m very thankful for my experience at undergrad, and I know that it has prepared me to experience a larger university. While I have no idea how hard the workload will be, other personal considerations will be much less stressful as I transition into another phase of my life.

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If You Are Uncomfortable, Please Leave the Room

It’s a new year, and I’m back to blogging! It turns out there is no senior slide if you’re an engineering student. Just a senior surge. At my school, all engineers participate in Senior Design, a capstone class where a local engineering company essentially outsources a project to a team of students and we have a year to complete it. It’s very similar to participating in an internship or co-op, and it’s a wonderful job preparation opportunity. It has been an incredible amount of work, but it’s fun to see how much we have learned since the beginning of the year.

I really like the company that my team is working for, but I actually have not been looking for engineering jobs. I just was accepted to a top 20 law school and am hoping to become a patent attorney. I will write more about this process in my next blog post, published tomorrow!

Anyway, next week we start spring semester and I just had a meeting with one of my professors for next semester. I’ve met this professor in the past, and he is one of the typical socially inept engineers. He will be doing the lecture for one of my engineering classes. Long story short, he wanted to talk to me to try to get me to switch into a different lab. Apparently, the lab I signed up for has a new instructor, and according to my lecture professor, “Since the lab instructor is new, he will probably not be comfortable with you.”

What makes it even worse/funnier is the fact that he wants me to switch into a lab with the professor I reference in this blog post-At Last, Not Alone

Like I need another semester with a discriminating professor.

Sometimes, because other people do not see me as one, I even forget that I am an actual human. But then I remembered that it’s not my fault if people are uncomfortable around me. To be uncomfortable with someone is a form of discrimination. I understand that people may not have had experience with people with disabilities, but this does not mean that they can dehumanize us. I was reminded of Ben Ptak’s NFL original oration “If It Bothers You, Please Leave the Room.” I saw this speech on videotape and was inspired to join original oratory in high school as a result. The transcript is linked above.

I told my professor that I would not switch labs. I explained to him that I have new professors every semester and they are fine with having me in their class. I’m sure that the lab instructor hadn’t actually expressed any concerns about me being in his lab-it was just the lecture professor projecting his distorted views onto someone else.

Until tomorrow-

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Minority/Majority and Media

I’ve been reading a lot of disability blogs out there, and I am always so happy to find new ones. Since now I’m too old to attend muscular dystrophy camp, I feel as if I lack any ties at all to the disability community. I have a hard time saying this, but I’m not necessarily a fan of promoting membership in groups that focus solely on the minority. I mean, shouldn’t we strive for more equality than looking at our differences? This question has always bugged me. However, one day my friend asked me if I would rather attend a camp that allowed full access for all campers but was not exclusive to kids with muscular dystrophy or if I liked the exclusivity of a muscular dystrophy camp. I have to say that muscular dystrophy camp was the best week of my life and was so special. Sure, I love being included with all sorts of different people, but there is something that I needed from muscular dystrophy camp. It was really important for me to be surrounded by other people that looked like me and experienced the same things as me. For once in my life, I was part of a majority instead of being “the girl in the wheelchair.” There was understanding everywhere. So, reading all these blogs been pretty emotional, but familiar.

But, to my point, today I want to talk about the media’s fascination with brides with disabilities getting married. All my feelings are pretty much summed up in this article from New Mobility, but it just baffles me that people can say- “Wow, she’s in a wheelchair and someone still wants to marry her.”  Do we still have coverage on interracial marriages? I don’t think so. It’s nice to see people in wheelchairs getting married because sometimes I feel like it will never happen, but it’s also sad because apparently it’s such a big news story. I’m pretty sure I’ll do one of those obligatory dating and disabled posts soon, because in all honesty it really is more difficult.

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PCAs – Please Call ASAP

I was going to write about my experience with the LSAT, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another post. I just got a phone call from my personal care attendant who was supposed to come tonight, but she said she’s having an allergic reaction, so she won’t be able to make it. I know that she was looking for a substitute yesterday, so I’m not sure if she was having a reaction then already?

PCAs are one of the few things that I really despise about my disability. Not that I despise the individual PCAs I have, most of them are great workers and excellent human beings! I just hate having to depend on someone. Like tonight, I don’t know if/when I will get someone to help me use the restroom, put on my pajamas, and even get into bed. Also, I was supposed to meet with some people tonight but I guess I won’t be happening. I wish I had more advice to give on PCAs; some days it feels like I could write a book, but other days it feels like I’m back at the beginning. I actually have been really lucky-I’ve never had any PCAs steal from me, no physical abuse, and I actually never had a PCA completely skip a shift without calling me until this year (actually, it’s the one who’s supposed to come today). So far, I have only hired college students by putting up posters around campus and asking friends/current PCAs for people that might be looking for jobs. I’m really worried about what will happen after this year though-I’m going to graduate and then go to law school, so obviously none of those students will be looking for PCA jobs. I suppose I’ll have to take my chances with Craigslist or something. Does anyone have good advice on how to find and maintain good PCAs? I just wish that they could understand that my family lives three hours away and I really have no one to help me. It’s not like a job at McDonald’s where you can skip a shift and no one’s health will be hurt.

Update-as I finish this post, I found someone to come and help me for half an hour get my pajamas on. Looks like I won’t be drinking or eating anything for the rest of the day so I don’t have to use the restroom. It’s going to be a long time until the next PCA comes tomorrow morning.

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At Last, Not Alone

Wow! Another semester is over. I apologize for not blogging regularly, but this semester was my busiest! I took three engineering classes with labs-electronics, manufacturing, and thermodynamics. So, this post is going to be more about my experience of understanding that I’m not alone as an engineer with a disability.

Lab classes have always been interesting for me, my professors, and classmates. I use a wheelchair and have limited use of my hands, so doing the physical work of building something is usually out of the question. Fortunately, my school has been very accommodating, and I am always flexible about working through things. To some, it seems that engineering would be an impossible major for me since I will never be able to machine or build things by myself. In fact, one of my lab instructors told me, “I just don’t see you as an engineer.” I said nothing, but thought- thank you, have I really just wasted three years of my academic career?

No, I have not. With every major and career, there are many different facets. For me, I know that I will be unable to physically build projects, but I can communicate my designs verbally, on paper, and on the computer. Engineering designs need to be imagined, but also communicated to teammates, employees, and customers. In fact, engineers are notorious for having problems with communication, so I can be a standout candidate in this area.

In addition, while I was in my school’s disability services office yesterday waiting to take a final, I stumbled across a magazine article that featured an engineer with quadriplegia. I was shocked, another engineer with a disability? Some days I feel like I’m the only one, and I’m not sure if I have ever read about another engineer with a physical disability. He said that much of his job involves modeling designs on the computer using CAD programs. I knew it! I almost took the magazine and sent the article to the lab instructor mentioned above.

In conclusion, though people working and going to school with a disability are definitely not as common, we are trying to make our way so that we can be successful for ourselves and our society. Here’s a link featuring more engineers with disabilities! Can you believe it?

Also, the Muscular Dystrophy Association unveiled a new website to help people with physical disabilities with transitions in their lives. I want to share it with you because it really is what the heart of this blog is about.

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Frantic Finals

Finals are over, and now everyone is just waiting to receive those final grades!

So, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how to survive finals-because with or without disabilities, they are tricky to navigate.

First of all, if you do receive testing accommodations, then make sure you schedule your tests far in advance (or whatever your school requires you to do) since many people will have finals at the same time.

Finals tips-

  • Study early and often. Don’t wait until the weekend before finals start studying. You will be most effective if you review your material throughout the semester. It doesn’t have to take too much time either, just staying refreshed helps. For example, after you take your second test in a class, and there is a lull, see if you still know how to do everything from your first test, hopefully without notes.
  • But of course, I’ll be honest and admit that sometimes I don’t do that. So, you have to make the best use of the weekend before finals. Schedule specific times you will study for each class. Honestly, if you just plan on studying all day with no direction, you will get less done. Some make that check list and start crossing things off!
  • For each class, write down the list of topics you have covered, and cross off or quickly review the topics you feel fine about. This list can be from the syllabus or old tests. Then, redo the homework from the topics you struggle with. Finally, once you have studied by yourself, get together with other students from your class and work on problems together.

These are just some quick tips that I think are important, and of course everyone has different learning styles so we all study differently, but there’s plenty more information online, so just google how to study for finals.

Good luck with your next set of finals, whenever they may be.

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Welcome to Campus – The Tour

It’s summer here at college and you definitely can tell because of all the tour groups!  So today I’ll be writing about another important addition in your journey to college, campus tours.

Campus tours are so important for everyone when looking at colleges.  They are the only way that you can get a real feel from the college, which can be much different from their website or brochures.  I toured all of my prospective colleges twice, once in the summer, and once in the fall, but I will do a case study tomorrow!  You can arrange a tour and arrange meetings with people through the admissions department.

For now, here’s a list of things to do and look for on your tour:

  • Meet with someone from the school’s disability service office.  Ask them about what accommodations they offer and what documentation you need to provide.  Ask them about accessibility issues on campus.
  • Receive an all campus tour from a tour guide.  Look for accessibility issues.  Do all of the doors have buttons to open them?  Which buildings have stairs?  Are there any any buildings that are not accessible?  Where the elevators located?  Are there accessible campus shuttles?  Are there any people with disabilities on campus?  What is the setup of the cafeteria?  Will you need help with getting your food? 
  • View an accessible dorm room.  What furniture can be taken out of the room or exchanged?  What adaptions will you need to make?  Is the bathroom and shower accessible?  Is the door wide enough?  If the desk at a good height?
  • Attend a class!  Note things such as class size, the professor’s teaching style, and classroom participation.  For your accommodations look at factors such as desks versus tables, adjustable table heights, classroom doors, and any classroom technology there may be.
  • As long as you’re on campus, it’s really beneficial to meet with people from the school’s financial aid office, your prospective department, and of course the admissions office.

Overall, pay attention to how you feel!  Does the admissions department treat you respectfully?  Do the students look happy?  How is the climate?  Most importantly, could you picture yourself going to college there?

For your enjoyment, here’s a magazine article about some of the top disability friendly colleges in the nation


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Case Study 1

My Experience with Disabilities Services

Sorry for the delay, apparently summer classes are very busy!

Before I chose a college, I met with staff from each disability services program.  One of the main reasons I chose the college I’m at was because of the friendly and caring demeanor of the disability services director.  Since my physical disability is obvious, the director of the program I chose did not require detailed documentation.  All I had to submit to my current school was my 504 plan and ACT testing accommodation information for her to make her assessment.  The other school would have required a myriad of forms and letters from doctors.

            So I chose school B over school A and have been very happy about it.  Every semester I meet with disability services to go over my classes and decide which accommodations I need.  Disability services sends an e-mail to all my professors detailing my accommodations and explanations. In some of my classes I have used height adjustable tables, but my wheelchair fits fine under most tables.  In some of my classes I have arranged for a notetaker to take notes for me, and then I would pick them up at disability services.  I schedule my test about a week ahead of time so I can take them in the disability services office because one of my accommodations is extended time on tests.  I also have to schedule essay tests on the computer so I can use my voice-recognition software program, Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

            I also have room accommodations arranged by on-campus housing and disability services.  I live in a dorm room that complies with the ADA.  It has an accessible bathroom and shower, wider door, the door actually has an opener that I control with a remote.  If you want to know more about my accommodations, please e-mail me or leave a comment.

I don’t have a specific link for you today, but please share this blog with others think it would be helpful or interesting to them.  If you want to see any specific topics also, let me know.  Otherwise I will keep plodding along the maze of attending college with a disability.

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ABCs of Academics

This is the main reason you’re going to college, right?  To further your education, develop critical thinking skills, and hopefully get a job that’s financially and emotionally satisfying.  If you are in high school you might not know your major yet, and that’s okay.  Most colleges don’t make you declare your major until the end of your sophomore year.  Of course if you do know your major, the goal is attending college that has a strong program of your interest.

Even students without disabilities should follow these steps and research colleges programs carefully.  I recommend talking to a professor in your intended program while touring colleges.  It’s also really helpful to attend a class to get a firsthand perspective on the teachers’ attitudes, typical students, and class size.

From the disability perspective, every college has a disability services which is an invaluable resource.  Disability service programs on campus serve with disabilities and help provide them accommodations in their classes and other aspects of collegiate life.  To become registered with disabilities services, students usually need to provide appropriate documentation from their high school, doctors, or psychiatrists.  Some services they may provide are notetakers, books on tape, alternate exam arrangements, readers and scribes for exams, course modifications, interpreters, assistive listening devices, priority registration, and braille texts.  They also usually have assistive technology programs that students can use.  This is actually a great question to ask when you visit the disability services office.  Do the programs they have suit your needs, and are they newer versions?

For tomorrow-my personal experience with my college’s disability services.  This program is so important it takes more than one day to examine.

Until tomorrow, I’ll leave you with this link.

Zach Anner is a 25-year-old man with cerebral palsy and is hoping to get a show on Oprah’s new network.  Check out his video which is hilarious and vote for him!


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