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Friday, March 16, 2012

When You Literally Can't Get Your Foot In The Door: Disability, Accessibility and Unemployment

Disability. Accessibility. Unemployment.  Three things that are intertwined. Being disabled and not able to get into an office that is hiring just adds insult to injury.

If you're a TAB (better known as one of the "Temporarily Able Bodied") you've likely not faced this trio of issues. But the key word is temporarily. Like most of you a few years ago I was also 'able bodied.' A few days ago I faced literally being unable to 'get my foot in the door' to apply for a job. Yes, as a TAB I had never realized just how good I had it. 

If you're like the majority of working age Americans you don't give a second thought to businesses being handicapped accessible. Until it hits home.  It did for me last week. It hit hard.

I've been job hunting for over two years (yes I'm that statistic the government doesn't want to tell you about, the unemployed who no longer qualify for unemployment but who are still unemployed.) I had applied for a job  and was excited when they called for a interview. I really needed the job. Those two LONG years of being unemployed are taking their toll on my confidence. But being called in for this interview rejuvenated me! I spent hours researching the types of business they handled, brushed up on my computer skills, curled my hair, did my makeup, got dressed in my most businesslike attire. 

But when I arrived, (my usual 15 minutes early,) I was dismayed to find I couldn't get into the office. I tried one way, then another, there was no way to get up the steps to the office. It wasn't handicapped accessible. I was told 'next time before I apply I should check out the business' office' to see if I could get into it. I think the person who said this was trying to be helpful, he just didn't get it. He's not the one who can't get into the office. At least today he isn't. Temporarily he can access the office. I hope he never faces not being able to get into the office.

I understand the difficulty of installing a ramp, especially for small businesses. As an individual I'm facing the cost and design issues at home. I don't have a wheelchair but steps are difficult but doable, but all I needed to get into this job interview was to be able to reach a railing. A safe railing so I could get up the steps. Unfortunately the railing was blocked. A small thing (although what use a railing people can't reach is I'm not sure.) But it is really the first time my 'disability' hit me hard. My disability meant I couldn't get into the office to interview for the job, let alone work there. And I don't even have what I would call a 'serious' disability. I can still get around with some limitations using my cane, at least I can get around some places.

The people interviewing me apologized. But the cold hard fact is even if they'd wanted to hire me, even if I was the best qualified person in the world for that job, I wouldn't have gotten it. Because I couldn't get into the office to work. (Obviously a reasonable job requirement.) Now I realize just how the rest of the disabled population feels when they come up against this, over and over and over.

I've face sidewalk ramps that are too steep to be usable without falling (Thank you Springfield Mall, and they aren't the only ones). It's common to find sidewalk ramps that are too steep for someone with a disability to navigate if they are using a cane, (and probably even if they are in a wheelchair that doesn't have some power behind it.) I've found steps that are too high to negotiate even with railings, curbs that are too high, ramps that ice up and aren't salted when it snows, railings that are so loose that if you are disabled and needed the railing for support, it is dangerous, and the list goes on.

So the next time you hear those unemployment numbers and think 'wow every one's finally getting a job,' the cold hard facts are NOT everyone is getting jobs. Huge numbers of people will never be employed again. They've been unemployed so long they aren't even counted anymore.  And some people who are otherwise employable literally can't get their foot in the door. Because they can't get up the steps to be interviewed or to work. By not making all buildings accessible the government is basically telling me 'you don't count.'

I've become a statistic. An invisible statistic. Come the election you won't hear the candidates of either party talking about me, or others like me. Because they don't know what to do with us. We face employers who look at our resume and see 'unemployed since 2010' or underemployed since 2010 and they put our resumes in the circular file. The only choices we are left with is to find some kind of self-employment where we will be paid so far below what we made previously and not be able to afford the health insurance we so badly need. So since the government doesn't count me as unemployed anymore, AND they either aren't enforcing or don't require accessibility to all businesses (which is just another way of telling me I am not important enough to have businesses have to provide access,) and... the list goes on of the ways the government has marginalized the disabled and the unemployed. And God forbid you are both.

Are you disabled? Have you faced these issues? Let's try to put some pressure on our government, both federal and local, to enforce accessibility laws, to help educate local businesses on cost efficient ways to make their business accessible, and give the disabled a chance to at least 'get their foot in the door.'

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