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:
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!