nking,” yeah yeah Taylor, we don’t need the first-grade English lesson.” But what I’m trying to get at is that the root of inequality towards the disabled is subconsciously rooted in the term that defines our community - we are not able.
I was quickly introduced to this dark reality as a newly diagnosed Stargardt’s macular degeneration patient at the age of 13. As I began to ask for small accommodations like enlarged text, I heard it all from, “I’m not a special education teacher” to “Are you illiterate?” When it came time to apply for college, a very influential art teacher told me to not waste my time applying to art school because I would never be able to pursue a full-time career with a visual disability.
Thoughts on sending her my professional graphic design portfolio?
Unfortunately, the discrimination didn’t stop as I entered corporate America. So, how can we change the narrative? How can we ensure that the new generation of 13-year-old Taylor’s feel empowered to pursue a career they are passionate about?
Let’s start with awareness. During the entire month of October, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness month, a time where organizations and elected officials take a deeper look at workplace inequalities for those with disabilities.
Here are a few facts:
In 2020, 17.9% of those with a disability were employed
This number was down from 19.3 % in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A mere 3.2% self-identify as having a disability to their employers.
These statistics highlight that we are struggling to recognize the hurdles people with disabilities face when finding stable and suitable employment opportunities. But inadequate education and work-skills training, lack of transportation, tailored accommodations, and both informal and formal discrimination by employers are of the most common to name just a few.
Simply being aware doesn't mean that employers or their disabled employees know what it takes to make a workplace welcoming. What works for one person may not translate to the next, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Although, it is the responsibility of both parties to speak up and communicate what is and what isn’t working in terms of workplace accommodations.
Having a certain level of understanding and trust are two key ingredients in providing a warm and welcome workplace. Managers: understand that your employee may not be able to do each task the way you do it and trust that they are resourceful enough to find a way to achieve greatness whichever way works best for them. My fellow employees: if you need a specific accommodation, please speak up, proudly and confidently. We are human. We deserve to be given the same opportunities to fail and succeed.
Our tech PR agency has achieved this level of understanding and trust with flying colors. It was one of the very few interviews that didn’t end after I opened up about my vision loss. I also didn’t feel the need to prove my worth after I had been direct and honest. Regardless of it being uncharted territory for the team, they were eager to learn and quick to communicate. Not only did they provide tech that works best for me but our flexible work environment allows me to take breaks when I need to. Want to work with me at a place that’s been dubbed the best place to work in PR multiple times? Click here to view some job openings.
Interested in learning more about how you can build a welcome workplace? JAN provides free, confidential technical assistance about job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).