I was born with CHILD Syndrome, a rare condition that only affects about 60 people worldwide. It causes skin and limb deficiencies on one side of the body. As an amputee, I do have a prosthetic I can use to get around, but, because of the raw skin my disease causes, the pain is often unbearable.
In middle school, I fully transitioned to using a wheelchair and have never looked back. Using an electric wheelchair, though designed specifically to give people with physical disabilities back their independence, has severe limitations. Most are unable to travel in normal vehicles and the world just isn’t accessible enough to ensure that you will be able to get where you’re going. There is so much I could talk about transportation, inaccessibility, and mobility aids, but the one thing you need to know before continuing forward is this:
People with physical disabilities are drastically limited in the employment they can acquire due to society’s inability to conquer it’s ableist ideals.
What’s wrong with corporate America?
Americans place too much value on our ability to generate a profit. Having no work/life balance, taking 0 vacation days a year, a new mother rushing back from her maternity leave; these are praised behaviors in corporate America.
It’s no wonder the disabled community is so underrepresented in the workforce.
“Oh, you have to go to the doctor once a month to receive life-saving treatment? Yeah, no sorry, we need someone willing to work 12 hours a day plus weekends when necessary.”
“Oh, your wheelchair broke down on your way into the office? Ha! Nice try! You’re fired.”
Someone reading this is currently thinking to themselves, “Why don’t you just apply for remote positions if getting to an office is such a hassle.”
How has the pandemic made a difference?
Good question! Prior to Covid-19, remote opportunities were not that easy to find. Many still required travel or going into the office a couple days a week. As the world is still incredibly inaccessible, if you live in or are traveling to a city without public transportation, getting around is almost impossible if you don’t have a large piggy bank funding your way.
The pandemic has changed the ballgame. Now that everyone is at a medical disadvantage, remote work isn’t such a radical idea anymore. Jobs that people with disabilities were told could not be done online are now being done exclusively from a computer. Meetings over Zoom or on Microsoft Teams instead of in cramped board rooms with no extra space for a wheelchair to turn around. Asking interviewers if their building is accessible is a thing of the past. I can now feel confident that my condition is not the sole reason I could not get a position.
Obviously, along with the pandemic has come an economic recession, meaning that job opportunities are still few and far between. Many of the jobs I have applied for have hundreds of applicants, dozens who most likely have much more professional experience under their belt than I do being just out of college.
Will it sustain?
Now, each time I receive a rejection email, my body convulses a bit and my heart rate quickens. As people fight to return to normalcy, I can physically feel my window of opportunity closing. There was a time before Covid-19 and there will be a time after. Will remote work still thrive when it’s safe for the majority to return to the office? Will companies still be looking to hire employees to work from home?
Or, possibly worse, if I do end up getting one of the few, precious jobs up for grabs right now, once this is all over, will the deal suddenly change?
I’m lucky. My specific condition allows me extra mobile freedoms that others do not have. I can get up and hop around on my one foot if needed to get my wheelchair over an extra large rut in the road. Though uncomfortable, I can wear a prosthetic and walk short distances.
What does all this mean? It means I can physically get to a job. In fact, every job I have worked in the last 4 years has required me to come into an office for at least a few days out of the week.
If accessible public transit isn’t available, is getting to a job easy for me? Nope. Does that mean it’s impossible? Nope.
I’m open to all job opportunities, remote and in person, but some people aren’t that privileged.
As we move forward out of this pandemic, I sincerely hope company executives remember how scary it was to be in an at risk environment and normalize work from home opportunities for all.