Is It Because of My Disability?

When I opened up the email, I eagerly scrolled down to the bottom and came upon the decision: "Not Hired." After countless applications and rejections, I am pretty much numb to this news, and unsurprisingly, my mind flies to the question that my mom would articulate a few minutes later over the phone: "was it because you mentioned your blog?" I discussed my blog post on disability and feminism in the context of the interview, not bluntly disclosing my disability, but it was obvious that the topic was personal. Was it because I acknowledged my disability?

I have been coached throughout my job search to avoid any mention of my disability with potential employers, because, despite the Equal Employment Opportunity statement at the bottom of the jobs page, disability is still seen as a hindrance to employers, one that will diminish their efficiency and force them to make accommodations. Sometimes, it isn't that easy. Even though Crohn's Disease is invisible, I couldn't hide my PICC line and pump when I once interviewed with two Vice Presidents of one of the largest defense contractors, and one of these well-meaning gentlemen couldn't hide his discomfort.

It was there, it was an issue, but I wasn't addressing it. This statement could be broadened to my entire job search. Disability isn't addressed at first, but I know that it will, it must, come out early in the employment process for the purposes of discussing accommodations. When it does, I fear that my potential contributions will be overshadowed by something that could be seen as an inconvenience or liability. It actively kept me from taking one job because the employer could not accommodate postponing my start date one day for a pre-scheduled, necessary treatment, and I would need to have other such appointments in the future. The offer was rescinded immediately after that obstacle was pointed out, but in reality, could someone who has occasional medical troubles and impromptu medical appointments work with an employer that inflexible? Workplace flexibility is discussed in the context of working parents, and although their devotion to their families may be construed as shifting some of their priorities and time, employers do not question if their actual job skills are affected. Why does it feel like individuals who need flexibility and accommodations for themselves and their medical needs are viewed as being less competent workers?

The truth is, I see myself and other people with disabilities as being just as productive, useful and creative as workers without disabilities. There may be specific obstacles in our career paths, but with adaptation, we have the potential to reach the top of our fields and contribute fully. These obstacles come in the form of medical needs and limits, which we address ourselves, but also because of how many view us as inadequate or lesser because our needs are not normal by societal standards. While we address our own problems, I have found so few resources that address the latter problem by helping us to overcome the stereotyped ways of thinking about disability, actively working to promote individuals with disabilities as competent workers at all levels or extending us the resources we need to get to the top.

While I continue to search for jobs, I am starting to realize that I really want to address this issue, but I don't know how. There are a few organizations that address the needs of individuals with disabilities through resources and lobbying, and state vocational centers provide invaluable counseling and resources for individuals with disabilities on the job search. However, these organizations focus on such a wide array of legal issues regarding disabilities, and vocational rehab is spread thin because it is (rightfully) concerned with just helping individuals with disabilities gain employment. I know of no organization that looks at this issue from the perspective of unique, empowered people who happen to have disabilities, places their skills in center stage instead of accommodation needs and helps them to advance their careers to the highest heights they can achieve.

While I realize that my rejection from this job today probably has nothing to do with my disability, it brings up what has been on my mind for months: how much I want to become involved in addressing disability issues in the workplace. I have so many ideas on what resources could benefit people with disabilities, and a thirst to show companies and organizations that individuals with disabilities are valuable at every level. Finally, I truly hope that someday, I can get a rejection without questioning: is it because of my disability?