Hello, my name is Annie. As a responsible high school student, I’ve begun to look at future goals. Currently I think I would like a career as a counselor or motivational speaker. I’m determined to achieve my goals. But as I get ready to move from my accommodating high school and live on my own in the “real” world, I know that things are going to be harder. In order to be independent, I’ll need a job to support myself. I know I can succeed, but I’ve become aware of some obstacles that I’ll have to overcome. In researching this speech, I’ve become concerned about them. So today I’d like to talk to you about discrimination I’ve found. It’s not racial, sexual, or religious; instead it’s the discrimination faced by people with disabilities.
Worldwide 650 million people have some disability, with 49 million of those living in the U.S. These are big numbers, and they show that this is a big problem. Today, let’s look at some roadblocks the disabled encounter when seeking employment, analyze why these obstacles exist, and suggest some action we must take to remove this final kind of discrimination.
Studies show that when job seeking, the disabled face challenges at every step of the process.
First, even getting a job application is difficult. For example, when I went into a local business and asked for an application, the manager just stared at me. I had to repeat my request three times before he replied and gave me an application. Needless to say, I’ve never gotten a call from him.
Second, enduring a job interview, if one is even offered, is an ordeal. As potential employers look at a disabled person, they often don’t know how to react to the situation. Some avoid looking at the person. Others may react by inadvertently making insensitive comments without realizing how they make the special person feel. As a result, often employers never learn what the person’s abilities are.
Third, for the disabled landing a job is rare. Like me, once a disabled person submits an application, he or she probably never hears from the employer. As a result only 11% of disabled persons are able to find full-time work to support themselves.
Finally, if disabled persons do get jobs, they will probably earn less than those without disabilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a man of working age with no disability makes on average $46,000 per year, but a man of working age with a handicap makes only $24,000 per year. That means that the disabled make around 50% what the non-disabled do.
Why does such discrimination exist? Many reasons come to mind, but three stand out.
First, employers, like most people, just don’t know how to respond to the disabled. Their limited experience makes them hesitant to approach the handicapped for fear of saying or doing something wrong. As a result they don’t look at or talk to the person and so make the disabled feel invisible. But employers are people, too, and their discomfort is understandable. Yet sometimes I struggle to comprehend how this discomfort makes them do strange things. Can you imagine how I’ve felt at those times when a mother covers her child’s eyes so the youngster doesn’t have to see me?
Certainly the media has not always helped the situation. Its portrayal of the disabled is often misleading and sometimes degrading. For example, several years ago my family and I were guests on the Maury Povich Show. The producers promised it would be a positive experience that would help me learn more about other disabilities and people who were different. The opposite happened. We and other families dealing with severe disabilities were given scripts to memorize, scripts that had us complain about how horrible our lonely lives were. We were told to cry on camera. In short, we were put on display in order to get an audience reaction and to make a more controversial television program. This media circus provided exactly the kind of misinformation on which people base their incorrect ideas about the handicapped.
Second, employers without experience with the disabled often make unwarranted assumptions. Then they react as if the assumptions were true. For example, many people assume that a person with physical limitations also has mental limitations. Incorrectly believing the disabled aren’t intelligent, they talk down to them. Of course, this means that they mistakenly assume the person is not capable of handling the mental challenges of some jobs. In addition, the employers often assume physical limitations that don’t exist. For example, you may be surprised to know that I can cook, walk my dog, play pool, ride a skateboard, use a computer, ride horses, and swim and dive. In fact, one of my most memorable experiences was swimming with the dolphins in Key Largo, Florida, as part of a dolphin therapy program.
Third, insufficient laws and lax enforcement of existing laws allow the injustices to continue. The Americans with Disabilities Act was a good start, and it has made life for the disabled much easier. But it needs updating and stronger enforcement clauses so that no one with a disability faces discrimination. As my experience shows, despite the law, there is still blatant bias.
So what do I suggest we do about this shameful situation? I’m so glad you asked!
Initially, Congress needs to enact specific laws protecting the rights of the disabled and insure that those laws are enforced. Employers need to make sure their companies are adhering both to the letter and the spirit of the laws. One thing I would like to see is a requirement that potential employers give disabled applicants a chance to demonstrate they can do the job before denying them employment. Some employers might be amazed at what they see!
Next, on the personal level, I’d like you to get to know – really know – a handicapped person. Make a point of visiting with a person disabled in some way. Speak to us as you would any other person. Put yourself in our place and think about how you’d want to be treated if you were to lose one or more of your abilities. And consider the idea that everyone is disabled – or “other-abled” – in some way. Maybe you have poor eyesight or color blindness; maybe your hearing is limited; maybe you have a weak back, limited mobility, difficulty remembering names, a learning disability – maybe just a bad hair day! In truth, as human beings we all have some imperfections. Some are just more noticeable than others.
Finally, I’d like you to believe that “disability” does not mean “dis-abled.” You may be amazed what people with so-called disabilities can do. The deaf Beethoven composed some of the most beautiful music the world has ever heard; the blind Milton fashioned some of the most powerful poetry in our language; the blind and deaf Helen Keller inspirited us with her humanity and understanding; paralyzed by polio, Franklin Roosevelt served as one of our most capable Presidents; and Steven Hawking, severely disabled by Lou Gehrig’s disease, continues to create brilliant theories about astrophysics. I gain inspiration from three people who suffer from the same limitations I have: one is a new mother who is caring for her child; another has taught herself to drive; and the third is a powerful preacher who travels the world as an evangelist. Please, rather than focusing on dis-ability, put the emphasis on what we CAN do. We all deserve the chance to do our best.
Today we’ve examined some barriers disabled people face in seeking employment, analyzed some reasons these obstacles exist, and proposed three steps to remedy these problems.
Acceptance is the key. When I moved to a new school in eighth grade, at first the students were intrigued because they had not seen anyone with my level of disability. The students stared at me. I heard a classmate say, “Oh, look, it’s the girl without arms and legs that we all heard about.” Bu the awkwardness passed as they got to know me. Now I have plenty of friends who respect me because of what I can do. I hope everyone can learn to be as open and accepting as my young classmates have become.