I am looking for a job. Most of my friends are in the same boat. I was talking to one of my closest friends and they briefly mentioned they weren’t all that concerned about the job hunt, that once they put their mind to it, they’d likely find one immediately. I can’t relate. Everything about looking for a job fills me with dread. It’s not the interaction that makes me uneasy—I’m charming as hell—it’s the knowledge that at a majority of the time, interviewers will dismiss me the instant they see me. Being big, black and disabled has never been openly welcome in America, let alone in the offices, companies and organizations around the country—and world.
There’s really no universally acceptable advice available about job hunting while disabled that any one entity can agree on. Most accounts are anecdotal, including my own, but based on my own experiences, I have decided not to disclose my disability on Equal Opportunity Disclosure forms. I was naïve enough to want to believe the best in potential employers, but like a wet towel on naked flesh, that optimism has been beaten out of me leaving me bruised.
I began searching for work in the United States while I was still completing my degree, led by flashbacks from my first post-college job hunt. I has hoped that I could get a jump start and perhaps transition from the classroom to the conference with a bit more ease, but that hasn’t been the case. I estimate that between January and just a week ago, I completed nearly 300 applications and received just two inquiries seeking an information or further information. Last week, I stopped disclosing and was able to schedule 5 interviews within 3 days.
For all of the talk about disabled people “overcoming” disability, a majority of society has no problem with being the obstacle in a disabled person’s life. Ableism isn’t always blatant and can often take the form of throwing out an application of a disabled person who rightly disclosed their status. It looks like tying healthcare to employment so that hiring managers see higher premiums because of you. It looks like capping the amount of assets a disabled person can possess so that they can remain in poverty. It looks like paying disabled people less so that “they have something to do with their days.” Ableism looks like the face of an interviewer’s face that’s gone blank upon seeing you.
It’s amazing how many interviews you can line up when you don’t disclose you’re black and disabled.
Been looking for 6 months and only 2 interviews.
Stopped disclosing last week and now have 5 interviews in 3 days.#EqualOpportunityMyAss
— Crutches&Spice♿️ (@Imani_Barbarin) September 6, 2018
Ableism is rampant in the United States, but often goes unaddressed because despite the amount of disabled characters in the Oscar nominations, there is a lack of serious discussion about the lives of disabled people. And, because of inspiration porn prevalent on every corner of the internet, television and film, disabled people that speak up and voice their concerns about mistreatment are labeled bitter, lazy and told they’re not trying hard enough to “overcome.”
I have given thought to going into business for myself, but the thought of being an army of one in the workforce exhausts me. It’s hard to always be forging ahead alone because the ableism faced forces you to into a box where emotional labor is constantly demanded from you in order to be taken seriously. I want to work on a team and be forced on a corporate retreat with people I only tolerate.
I always encourage disabled people to be proud of who they are and to not make themselves smaller in the face of those who believe we take up so much space. It feels like a betrayal to myself and my own words to try to make my personality distract from my disability and revert back to the person that tries to out-smile or out-perform my disability. I’m going to continue on this job search until I find the place where I am welcome. For now, though, I won’t be wearing my medical alert bracelet to any interviews.