I recently lost a job I had after seven years. While I had no intention of leaving, I am so very grateful at the opportunity to do work that was meaningful to me. My disability allowed me to approach the concept of social justice through the lens of a population very underrepresented in the workforce.
I can say that the large majority of people with disabilities I know are either unemployed or working in a job that doesn’t fully tap their potential.
I experienced much of the same stigma as people with disabilities face in the workforce when I first graduated college.
I found three perceived, recurring themes:
1. People with disabilities are unable to work productively because doing so causes them to lose their benefits.
2. People with disabilities lack the experience to be responsible for a good paying fulfilling job.
3. People with Disabilities do not have the self-confidence to put themselves out there and grow into roles.
Let’s examine these trends, (and why they may be wrong).
1. Disability benefits are designed to allow people with disabilities to lead healthy productive lives. I had this (1) misconception when I started working. Whenever I was asked to put in extra hours, or rearrange my work schedule, I was able to do so largely because of my benefits, not in spite of them. My benefits help me manage my own care, so I can work productively for an employer.
2. People with disabilities are uniquely capable of handling high responsibility and pressure jobs. Anyone who is on benefits knows that working involves going through a lot of hoops. Having done this, I feel much more confident in my ability to handle stressful situations, and more willing to ask questions and get help if I need it. This is one of the most valuable qualities for an employee in any field to have.
3. People with disabilities have just as much confidence as anyone else. What’s different is that we are taught that we need to bottle that confidence up because if we seem too “with it,” we will be judged as not needing supports. This is a difficult mold to break out of, but I know from my own experience that given the right work situation, I am more than capable of expanding my level of responsibility.
People with disabilities need to understand our value in the workforce. I feel like a lot of these discussions center around self-benefit. While important, I feel we need to more strenuously advocate for our ability to improve society.
Written by Matt Kramer
Image Credit @kramedawg1