"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you from doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit as well as physically." – Stephen Hawking
I've been living with a disability for the last 11 years. It's completely changed my life in so many ways that I didn't expect. Sure, I can still do certain activities like dancing, drawing, walking, working out, cleaning dishes, and typing. But when it comes to work, there are some tasks I simply can't complete — this limits my job opportunities.
When I apply to a job of my interest, I have to answer the "Do you have a disability?" question. I hate having to answer "yes" — although discrimination is not allowed in the workplace, believe me, it happens. Saying "yes" may narrow down my chances of getting a job.
Then, if I get a chance and go to the interview, more things are told about the job to me that I may not be able to do. A job that requires me to constantly drive does not work for me because it is hard for me and my physical disability to drive for long hours (and I don't want to put others at risk). Once a task of the job is revealed to me during the interview that was not on the original requirements list, the job's out.
When you have a physical disability, you can only apply to certain jobs. I wanted to apply to be a full-time dance teacher — I can teach hip-hop but teaching choreography, that's more delegate. Ballet and tap that require toe pointing is a no-go unless I speak the choreography and improvise. I can't climb high or drive trucks so any job involving those tasks is a no-go, as well.
Once you have a job and ask for accommodations, they have to give them to you when it's reasonable — but then you may have fewer chances of moving up in the company. I had trouble bending and climbing stairs at my old job, which hindered my performance. I looked like a bad worker when I was not — I just felt bad others had to do certain tasks for me and deal with my disability.
When I could not perform certain tasks, even though people knew I had a disability, it looked like others did more than me.
When you apply for a job, people can generally see your disability. I try and hide my leg braces, but sometimes they are noticeable. A manager almost wanted to ask about my disability but he did not. I had someone see my leg braces during an interview once at a clothing store and I could tell it may have bothered them — I could feel their stares.
We have laws to protect us against discrimination in the workplace — the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which protects individuals from prejudice acts in the workplace. Unfortunately, this still occurs. I have experienced it myself! There have been times when my accommodations were not granted at work and when I received negative comments and reactions from individuals at work. It was so uncomfortable and upsetting knowing I was judged for my disability and not my abilities.
I hope this article sheds some light on the difficult situations that some or even many people with disabilities face like I do when looking for jobs. We need a more accepting, non-judgmental, and understanding population to help people with disabilities thrive and see individuals for their abilities, and not their disabilities.