Sitting at home, on a cold but comfortable Saturday evening, I come across a statistic that imbues me with a sense of dread that not even an episode of Frasier can soothe. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, 17.5 percent of disabled people had jobs. I am physically disabled. I am not an expert on calculating odds (I would love to meet Nate Silver), but I am smart enough to know I do not like the idea that only 17.5 percent of us have jobs. According to the US Census Bureau, about one in five people are disabled. According to the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, in 2015, the rate of poverty among the non-prison disabled population (age: 16-64) was 30.5 percent.
I am not trying to whine.
This is merely another way of informing others, and coping with a tough reality, one that many like me will face, and hopefully conquer. I’m lucky, relatively privileged, with a supportive middle class family. I live with my family—have my needs met, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. The voice in my head goes: You’re Lucky, for now, anyway! Time being what it is, apathetic, and swift, I have the stark realization that I cannot rely on parents forever.
In my quest to find work, I have had a couple internships, paid and unpaid. During my first internship, I did well; however, I wish I had treated it like an extended job interview. Perhaps, if I had truly excelled, I would have eventually been hired, even amidst their budget issues. I have been actively looking for paid work for over two years. Many longtime job hunters will know of the highs and lows, the promise of potential, the despair of a failed application or an unsuccessful interview, or the successful interview that was discarded because someone better was in the running. Fatigue is a result of this whole process. In many instances, extended job searching leads to anxiety and depression. In my case, hypochondria has reared its ugliness, also often referred to as a condition brought on by boredom, or too much time.
I still keep myself involved in community events and social outings.
I also continue a telework internship. I have taken massive open online courses, a great way to add to one’s knowledge. All of this is not enough to fill my days as certainly as a nine-to-five would. I have mulled the idea of obtaining a Master’s degree, but of course, money is required to fill that goal. There is no guarantee that said degree will help launch my career, but one thing that certainly will: more work experience. All young adults are aware, or will become aware of the flawed circular logic of the job market: to get experience, you need experience. Most applicants with a Bachelor’s degree do not have the three-to-five years of work experience in their field of study that many entry level jobs require. I have seriously considered the possibility of working in retail to keep busy and save money while looking for work more commensurate with my field of study, as many people do. The retail industry is not too amenable to physically disabled job seekers, as the routine activity of stocking inventory is usually something we cannot do. The industry can be more creative regarding the nature of the jobs they offer. I may not be able to do inventory, but I can certainly be a greeter or support customers in making purchase decisions. I understand the difficulty in creating and offering these positions.
In addition to being open to retail opportunities, I would like to delve into academic research—even unpaid—as research helps bolster resumes. My experience has been that lately, many institutions seem disinterested, despite their websites that list impressive CVs and research interests. I have reached out to many institutions. It is puzzling that academics seem disinterested in having research assistants that are of no cost to them. One of my common responses when people say: “Have you found a job?” is that: “I’m working on it, but the market is tough.” I recognize that the market, and job hunting is a struggle for everyone.
I am open with employers about my disability, because there is no use in trying to hide it.
I use a wheelchair. It is tough to know when and how to disclose. I don’t mention it on my resume. I disclose it on my application form, usually by checking that “Yes” box. Perhaps I shouldn’t, maybe I should wait if or until I’ve been selected for an interview and mention the wheelchair when setting up the interview. I am still unsure how disability affects my chances of getting hired. Schedule A (hiring authority used for disabled applicants in federal applications) helps, as the government does make an effort to hire individuals with disabilities. Requirements to hire individuals with disabilities bode well for disabled applicants, but it is difficult to know how implicit bias among hiring managers affects our chances. Private companies also claim to be open and inclusive to disabled employees, but it is tough to know when or if all other things are equal between me and Applicant #2: Will my disability be an advantage, or disadvantage? My guess is more often than not I will be at a disadvantage.
I am unsure how to help myself, and others in my position.
I am not a policy maker. I know that I need a job. I know that I need to contribute to society in a more structured and organized way. I know that to start my life independently, I need to work and get paid doing so. I know that the odds are against me. I know that looking for paid work for over two years shatters confidence. I know that systems are not doing the best they can if only 17.5 percent of us are employed. I know that I need to work harder, despite my job hunt fatigue. Lastly, I know that there are plenty of disabled people with jobs, and yet, plenty more that need them—including me.
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