I’ve been on the job hunt for almost a month now. It’s a very different economy from the one I saw three years ago when last seriously looking for work. Like many people, I have experience and skills; the biggest challenge I’ve found (and I am not alone) is getting call-backs for interviews.
The following statements are my own preference, based on my own experience of work, resumes, and interviewing; not everyone will share this opinion. I don’t ever pre-disclose my blindness to prospective employers unless absolutely necessary. In my opinion, it has little to do with my ability to do the job itself, and I choose not to give my interviewers any opportunities to walk into that interview room with preconceived ideas about my capabilities. The idea is, if the job posting indicates that my skills and qualifications fit, I send in an application just like everyone else; I wouldn’t apply for a job looking through microscopes or driving a truck. Sometimes this has worked in my favor; my resume has stood on its own, and my solid work history and a successful interview has landed me a great job. Other times, I learn when I get there that there are truly visual job duties that were not indicated on the job posting, in which case I choose not to assign blame. Other times, I get turned down for the job because… um…?
I recently ran into a situation (though not for the first time) where I was graciously turned down for a job post-interview. I was told that my skills and qualifications were solid, but that there were some job duties that posed a safety risk to myself and my guide dog. There actually was a legitimate case for this, so I chose to be gracious in reply… until I read the part that said my attitude and qualifications were inspirational, and the hope was that I would find a position somewhere else.
Guess what? If I wanted to be inspirational, I’d go on the motivational speaking circuit. I am looking for a job, something that can use my skills and background, where employer and employee have a functional relationship, both being realistic about the capabilities of an employee with a disability, making reasonable efforts on all sides to be accommodating. Seriously, it’s not that hard. People just have to get over the fact that I wish to be taken seriously, and actually want to work for a living, and my resume proves I have the chops to do it! I took to twitter to vent, but I never expected my little tweet to gain such traction (as of this posting, it had 50 retweets).
Just gonna say this: people with disabilities are looking for serious jobs. Being “inspirational” doesn’t pay our bills.
— BlindBeader (@Blindbeader) January 29, 2016
There are many noble causes out there aiding people with physical or developmental disabilities, those struggling with mental illness and/or poverty. What few people understand is that people with physical disabilities want to work, to be taken seriously in the classroom, boardroom, or salesroom. The more we get treated like token inspirations, the more likely we are to become recipients of aide due to poverty and mental illness. Very few well-known figures who advocate for social change and social justice due to race or gender or other protected grounds even touch on disability. Why is that? Don’t they understand that the more we get shuffled off as “someone else’s problem”, the more likely we are to get sick and tired of just being pushed aside?
In the meantime, I choose to fight, because someone, somewhere, will give me the opportunity to use my skills and background, who will take me seriously as a job applicant. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. But I have a few tough questions for social justice warriors on both sides of the disability continuum: For those who don’t acknowledge our needs at all, and choose to address discrimination based on race, creed, or gender (legitimate grievance, to be sure), why is this the case? We face more discrimination on a daily basis than many of those for whom you are fighting. For those advocating on behalf of the disability community: why is employment not front and center in many of your mandates? In my opinion, meaningful employment is quite possibly the only thing that gives those of us who wish and are able to obtain it the dignity and self-respect we so desire. And for those employers who shuffle me and others like me off, telling us we’re so inspirational for coming to the interview? Guess what: I am not someone else’s problem, and your inspiration doesn’t pay my bills.