What if every time you see a bus, you'll have to count how many people are inside before you can walk in? And if the number is higher than two then the chances are, you are not getting in that bus due to the limited number of wheelchair spots on it. What if you cannot get into a building, and someone suggests that if you want the infrastructure to be created to such that you can enter, you'll have to fundraise the money to build a ramp yourself? What if the work culture you want to enter has already created the type of people (white men and/or able body) they want on their team and you are definitely not it? The tricky thing about disability is that outright segregation, as experienced by black people in previous decades, and exclusion, as experienced by women and so many other minority groups in the workplace, it is embedded and accepted by so many able body folks. It is embedded and disguised in every aspect of our society. It is so disguised in the structure of our physical environment and work culture, that sometimes people with disabilities don't even realize they are living in a segregated and exclusionary society. There are no obvious signs nor people saying we cannot get on the bus, and yet the system is created in a way that only one or two can get on at time. There are no job posts that say "No Disabled People Allowed", and yet the statistics speak for themselves.
While working and moving up in the leadership hierarchy is a given for men, women are still only just now trickling into the top executive positions. However, most individuals with disabilities have not even been able to get their foot in the door. Even though disability itself does not discriminate, the existing prejudices that exists for certain minority groups (i.e. black people) and for certain gender groups (i.e. women) are further exacerbated in terms of discrimination and exclusion in the recruitment process and in the creation of the work culture when you have a disability. According to multiple government and private studies, around 70% of people with disabilities in the U.S. are unemployed.
There is a lot of progress that still needs to be made in the women's movement and the black lives matter movement, and I believe progress in any of these movements is progress for all of humanity. However, I think what people don't understand enough is, disability is intersectional. This mean disability occurs no matter what class you are in, no matter what gender you are, no matter what race you may be, etc. I can go on and on... For example, some people with disabilities are women. And they are discriminated as such. Some people with disabilities are black. And they are stereotyped as such. But on top of not being in the "right" gender and ethnicity/color, they sometimes also have a disability and have to live with the discrimination and prejudices that come with that as well. And since so few people with disabilities are in the workforce, the capacity to truly understand and create a workplace that is not only physically accessible, but also attitudinally and culturally inclusive, welcoming and equal is sorely needed.
I hope by writing this blogpost, it will not only help people with disabilities who are trying to get into the workforce understand why it's so difficult to get employed. But also to tell those individuals with disabilities who ARE already in the workforce to be courageous and share the challenges of being in the work environment as someone who is not only an individual with a disability, but also a minority group in other aspects of their identity and share their suggestions for improvement. As the saying goes, they don't know what they don't know. If nobody is willing to speak up for fear of this or that, then things will only get worse for the whole of the disability movement.
I hope to read the disability rights movement version of "lean[ing] in" as advocated by the feminist COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl shared that during one of her pitch meetings to an all male group, she asked where the women's restroom was and nobody knew. And this specific guy she had asked had been working at that company for a year. That meant it had been at least a year since a women had came into their company for a high stakes meeting. For us individuals with disabilities, the lack of progress is even more desperate. A lot of work places don't even have wheelchair accessible bathrooms, period. Once again, they don't know what they don't know. And if we are always too fearful or timid to speak up, then progress will be stalled. To quote Susan Sygall, a fabulous disability advocate, let's be "loud, proud, and passionate!"