July was Disability Awareness Month
Are you aware of the employment challenges?
Here's a snapshot for you:
July is also called “Disability Pride Month”, and it feels like a weird language situation for someone like myself who is disabled. I’m not “proud” of being disabled, and I’m not “proud” of how the U.S. handles the policies or discussions much, either. I’d be much prouder of massive systemic changes in legal designations, medical access and pricing, and massive workplace overhauls.
Since we know we can all sing for our supper and starve to death doing it while most of Congress continues to age out of what is even a normal lifespan for sequoia trees, can I ask regular businesses to do this one thing? I ask because you could, even without any systemic changes from on high, at all, from any level: can you please employ more of us?
We ask for work because we need paychecks like you do. We understand there are jobs we can’t do, or aren’t suited for, and that doesn’t seem much different to us sometimes than the average “able” person, you know. But what a whole heap of the completely preventable employment problem piles up to is your own attitudes and practices at your businesses about incorporating people with some type of medical compromise or different workaround into your workplaces. At all.
To show the feeling of what it’s been like, I asked AI to design me an image of a person with a disability trying to get a job in the United States. I was hoping I could use it for this blog post. Instead, AI offered me “a mythological map of an ocean”. And yet, that is correct. AI got it right! Then it went haywire, insultingly insisting on adding its own version of typical inspiration porn with the ludicrous words “Achieving Dreams” and "Overcoming Challenges". That is exactly what it’s NOT like. So here you go:
This would be an epic explanation of why, in my creative work, I write satire.
Proceeding along, I tried to convince AI to steer clear of the typical American false positivity bullshit cliff, so I asked it to give me some data with words that might be less of a lie than its own insistence on psycho-pop mantras as the disability work life experience.
AI then brought be some serious contradictions, also known as “statistics”. The problem with statistics is usually what metrics are failing to be measured. It’s not that one number won’t be true. It’s that too many other numbers, all qualitative experiences, and the legalese of American policy are being left out.
For example, let’s just take some info from the US Department of Labor. The June 2023 numbers state that the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities in the U.S. is 24%. The same June 2023 numbers give the labor force participation rate for non-disabled people as 68.7%. We are then given numbers that state that the disabled unemployment rate is 6.8%, while the abled unemployment rate is 3.6%. If those numbers don’t seem to add up well, congratulations to your functional grey cells. Because what is being measured? Official numbers. In short-term time spans.
The official numbers tell half of the story that needs to be told: they only count people already in the system. Already officially recognized. Already legally represented, already able to produce the paperwork proof, often already employed, often already with some way to claim unemployment when it happens. People like me have no presence in those numbers. The very systems of officialdom are often busy preventing us from joining the ranks of the existing, the real, the counted. We’re now going to go through a far more human explanation that brings basic logic and American systems into a perma-clash death spiral of economic ruination. But you may be used to that already.
Have you heard of the American medical system? I ask because if you’re at all familiar with cost of medical care in the U.S., then you may follow the logic that people with more medical need, like some people with disabilities have, could lead to higher bills. You might also follow the logic that people with different or more complex medical issues might have additional, or unique, types of needs that weren’t necessarily common or widely available treatments. That can shoot pricing up even further, and not just for care, but for travel, accessible housing, and adaptive or assistive technologies. Um, what does your insurance plan cover? Flights? (Hang on, do flights even cover flights anymore?)
Okay, hopefully that one wasn’t hard to understand from a cost perspective. You can understand why we might be interested in income to offset those costs. Or a decent insurance policy. Now, tragically, if we involve the medical system in the U.S. in our painfully real-world example, we also involve that system called “insurance”. And that’s often where it all falls apart in the American workplace, especially for those needing or using health insurance.
What’s “insurance”, no one asks? And to that I answer: it’s an instant-migraine multi-page farce of bloated corporate profit that our sequoia-lifespan Congress uses to fund their campaigns. So, you can see it’s based on health. Of the bottom line, anyway, that sort of financial war chest health of how we continue to delude ourselves about democracy when we’re clearly aiming for plutocracy. While you’ve missed your mark, America, on either “health” or “care”, you have achieved your moonshot on delusions of a republic. If your ineptly-named “healthcare system” isn’t proof of that, than what is? (Okay, I see you in the back row—yes, besides everything else, I know).
For my entire lifetime, and I am not young but also not Congress-level archaeological artifact, we've never stepped away from linking health, insurance, and the workplace. We’ve also pretended that that’s somehow not involved in workplace hiring practices. Or firing practices. We’ve pretended that the state-sponsored relationship between health insurance and employment is never involved in who gets the job or why. We blah-blah-blah fake-speak about who is shoved out through some well-researched nonsense-worded loophole from a job they had until, of course, they used their health insurance. Then even when they could still do their job, they somehow were “no longer the right fit for the position”, having come up as red flag on the “health insurance use beyond annual physical” radar.
Yup, maybe they were like me or millions of other people in the U.S. with some type of disability. Yup, we have figured out you view us as a financial liability and don’t want to hire us, because we know employer-linked insurance affects your business’s bottom line. We know the searches you run, the data-combing vultures you pay for information you have no legal right to have, the endless discussions with H.R. and legal about how much you can “afford” to include us, and what type of qualifications you can tack on to just about any job description as “must have’s” that are not necessary for that job so that you can say we’re not a fit. So that you can claim we are not able to meet the requirements, and have every “legitimate” reason not to employ us.
And while it’s totally understandable to game out how one disabled cubicle-occupying spreadsheet-producing supply-sourcing rep getting flexible hours to go to treatments that are only available at doctors’ offices during regular business hours could easily bring down a Fortune 500 company…oh, wait. No, it isn’t that easy to imagine. Actually, maybe it’s difficult to imagine how hiring someone able to do the job who maybe had to do it slightly differently was even one-tenth of one-percent as much of a burden or danger as an overpaid CEO complaining about worker benefits while they take home half a billion dollars every year. For example.
Yup, sometimes it’s hard to figure out how we’re really so different than lots of regular, able workers who would like some flexibility for things like paid parental leave or the time to do school pick-ups. Or workers dreaming of a living wage, or a vacation, or well, all that stuff that once again our wealthy industrialized allied nations have implemented for decades that here in the U.S., we simply can’t afford. We know you can’t afford it, businesses. We know you can’t afford it, government. Because we all know where the money’s gone, for decades.
Meanwhile, “communism” and “socialism” are thrown around in your national discourse like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. My, it’s remarkable what our capitalist allies have been able to undertake without succumbing to freezing in state-sponsored toilet paper wait lines courtesy of the regime, while also having healthcare systems that, for all their problems, still cost less and get better results than ours. Did you ever ask yourself, America, how they did it while somehow also owning property and reading about our failures, provided by their own free fourth estate? You may need to rethink what types of political and economic systems a remarkable national healthcare system is actually associated with. It would certainly take a huge burden off of workplaces if you did, and with all that abject terror you have of Commies and socialists, you’d think unburdening your workplaces would be your thing.
When you link the most unaffordable healthcare on earth to employer-involved expense, you are purposefully keeping people with medical issues out of employment. Indefinitely. It’s basically state-sponsored permanent unemployment in a country so afraid of its own ideas of national healthcare as a bloated welfare state that it can’t imagine…employing people? Wow. Okay, um…sorry but wtf. Here’s the thing: when you won’t employ people, what exactly do you create? More need for some kind of economic and systemic help, surely, would be one result. Poverty would be another, and then do you have solutions for that if, one more time, jobs are not to be the solution? There’s a lot to unpack about your kind of crazy, America, and it can’t all be done in one blog post.
So, let me get this straight: you refuse to have a national healthcare system because it’s going to be so expensive that it would outspend your current “most expensive on earth” privatized one? One might wonder how, when finally there might be some regulation of it besides the current corporation-Congress connected fundraising drive that refuses the put the brakes on. What if you disconnected those corporations from Congress? Sure, our current model might short out, given the antique cylinders rusting away there, but hell, you and I are probably more than qualified to step into the breach. We may not merit employment, according to Congress, yet could change policies about healthcare to produce more employment that doesn’t have to be based on healthcare. Weird things like skills could come into play. Wild!
There’s another strange phenomenon about your denial of your wealthy capitalist industrialized allies, and some middle-income countries, that are spending less for better results in their national systems on metrics like maternal and infant mortality, for example. America, you clearly have no confidence that you could do anything like what they’ve done, even though you could take a look at their systems functionality and their data. So, you just view yourself as incapable, basically. You couldn’t learn and then make your own version that might work here. You just don’t have those skills. So, your lack of ability becomes my employment demise, even when I have skills to being to the workplace. Instead of you needing to work on your bad policymaking, it’s my job to create any job that could be a workaround to your lack of initiative and capacity to build productive change.
You therefore render people like me incapable of being included in one of the most fundamental issues in any life: full-time employment. I’m going to say your imagination is warped. I’m going to say you lack essential skills for the job. I’m going to say you’re a failure at innovation. And I’m also going to say I shouldn’t have to be the one paying the price for your kind of stupid, stubborn, willful destruction of the very “opportunity” you brag about, yet are so dead set against offering certain categories of people.
Then I expect you to fight me by saying something else that’s just as clueless, something along the lines of “because there’s the internet”. Because there’s the internet, anyone can earn a living now. If they even live in an area where the infrastructure was put in, or wasn’t taken out by disastrous weather events. If they can afford the internet, what with the medical bills and all. And of course, you’re still ignoring the health insurance issues, which are often more burdensome in paperwork and qualification hoops, more expensive, and less available when the insurance isn’t through an employer. And often cover far less. Then you won’t take into account that that very internet means people are often competing with workers in other countries for the same English-speaking jobs, who can afford to do the job for pennies on the dollar in countries with lower living costs. Then you’ll tell me to upskill and offer me mountains of debt to get another qualification to be interviewed by the same exact people hunting for the cheapest worker anyway who has that same exact qualification in another country, and can do the job for pennies on the dollar while we have American bills to pay. America, you make Dante’s circles of hell look like amateur hour.
I mean, is it me, or are a lot of the issues faced by disabled people who want a job just a worse level of the kind of American pain that so many able people face, too? We face it in greater rates of poverty with far higher medical expenses than you do. We face it with fewer options about how, where, and when we can work, which reduces the number of jobs we can realistically hope to have. The barriers are higher, the obstacles larger in number. But surely some of this sounds familiar in some way, even to the able?
Which brings us back to what you can do about this. It’s simple. If you are a decision-maker at a workplace, hire us. Yes, it’s cool that you can’t hire us at jobs we can’t do, because there are jobs we can do, and we can tell you about that. But you should probably let us have some input on what those are, rather than just eliminating “all jobs” as our only choice. If you’re waiting for the dictates of a government that decade after decade has no intention of governing for anyone but the rich, then you’re failing very simple creative and mathematical tests here, which brings into question whether you truly have the qualifications to hold the job you have, able person. Hmmm, maybe you need to be fired because of an actual inability, rather than insurance expense acrobatics.
And listen, if you wait for more official information on this disabled employment topic in a nation that will only count those already counted, you’re not getting the full story. So, that also calls your critical thinking skills into question and whether you should be a decision-maker in your workplace. You might need to be replaced, and it might have something to do with how terrified the higher-ups are of what a pricey mistake you could be if your assessment of sources and information is so poor, instead of your body’s physical presence being a problem for privatized legislation misnamed as public policy.
And guess what? You don’t have to know inside and out about what we have or how we manage it, because you can ask the disabled person to inform you about how, when, and where they can get the job done. Or would you rather wait for a call from the doctor’s office that won’t sign any forms anyway because their jobs are too important to help us get a job? Ah, so you’re just going to wait, instead of showing initiative. Again, I’m going to say that calls into question whether you should really be in any type of decision-making role in the workplace. What else are you going to kick the can down the road about or conveniently ignore, until it becomes a problem for the whole business?
Workplaces may not have every choice, but I wonder what choices they think we have. Even getting some official piece of paper to be able to have the discussion takes decades, lawyers, and dollars out of one’s own pocket, you see. Without that, H.R. can tell us to pound sand, every time. So we depend on companies who are less prejudicial, more courageous, and focused on skills-based hiring instead of medical profile hiring.
You see, our legal systems remain vastly disconnected from updated medical knowledge. The designations of disability under law are often complex, contradictory, or completely absent, depending on what medical issue is present. This leaves a huge number of people in a no man’s land, where there are medical issues present and provable as to certain limitations, but no recognition possible under the terms of the law.
When people are stuck in that wasteland of outdated information and stale definitions, they are left in an unsolvable dilemma about employment. For those who can work, but who cannot get the legal assistance or changes in law to recognize their bodies and medical records, they cannot get any official designation so that they can ask for the workplace accommodations necessary to get the job done. Any discussion with H.R. then consists of threading the needle between not talking about their medical needs so that they do get hired, while at the same time inviting getting fired for “non-disclosure” if they do get the job, but someone finds out about their disability. That is some serious bullshit. Bring the chicken, people wanted the egg; bring the egg, sorry, you should have brought the chicken. Then you’re forced to become a freelancer. That means self-sourced, self-funded insurance, if you can afford it. That means a self-sourced, self-funded retirement plan, while chasing gigs that “accidentally forgot” to list that requirement of lifting 35-pound boxes 12 hours a day for a two-week blogging assignment.
This over-convenient way of working us out of the workforce according to your biases and poison-laced policies rather than job performance has real-world economic consequences. More people with disabilities live in poverty in the U.S. At least, every time we’ve counted those with enough officialdom to be included in the count, it’s consistent that the rate of poverty for disabled people remains roughly double the overall rate of poverty in the United States, year over year. Not all of us, counted or not, have to be shoved into that statistic, but it would take changes in employment for those of us who otherwise could very well pull ourselves up. Do you realize you may be in a position to help us make that change?
Listen, America, your workplace-healthcare-innovation trash spiral has the effect of erasing us out of the numbers in many metrics that you need to be counting. But the information we do have should be damning enough. Even so, what I would always bet on is your stubborn inability to change. I know many of us will remain unrepresented, all but erased. Your inability to fix that by measuring the people who you don’t count is an optional defect. You also don’t have to wait for official systems to force you have better workplace practices at many of your own businesses. That is a choice. Yes, the American healthcare system makes that choice harder, but are you capable of doing hard things that might help your business by gaining valuable employees? And, at a basic level, are you capable of understanding issues of poverty in your own country? The information we have would indicate you are either not willing or not capable. Why the hell are you in charge of anything?
America, you have a choice about how disabled in perspective and practice you are. You could end that disability tomorrow, if you wanted to. You have a choice in your limitations that we never will. Ours are real. Yours are manufactured. Who’s really capable of doing the job here? Who is actually disabled now?