As the severity of the pandemic has subsided in recent months, many jobs have started hiring. But do they hire people with disabilities?
July 26th marked the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Part of the law’s purpose was to help with employment – to require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified applicants with disabilities. Yet even today, 77 percent of all Tennessees are employed while only 33 percent of people with disabilities are employed, according to a report from advocacy group TennesseeWorks.
Jason Emmons has been looking for a job since 2017 when he received a business administration certificate from the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, a training center for people with disabilities. He was born hearing impaired and lost his sight in one eye at a young age and completely lost his sight in 2014. If they were to hire Emmons, employers would be responsible for buying a computer software called JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech). reads the screen texts directly into his hearing aids. He also has a camera that reads paper documents to him. Emmons says he would love to work in an office to do office work as he is good at organizing and using Microsoft Word and Excel.
“I just want something that keeps my brain busy and happy with, where I’m happy with the job,” says Emmons. “I want to be useful and more [challenged]. “
In recent years he has been underemployed, volunteered for the Red Cross and in political campaigns, completed unpaid internships and submitted countless applications. He says the ADA is helpful, but only if it’s properly enforced.
“I know there are many barriers to employment, but people with disabilities have to do twice as much work to prove to them that we can do a job,” says Emmons. “The employer will always find a way around the problem by saying, ‘I’m sorry, we found someone else for the job.’ ”
As an Associate Professor at Belmont University, Lacey Lyons teaches her students about competitive integrated employment, a concept she would like to see grow as a self-advocate with her own disabilities. The aim is to get people with disabilities into jobs with opportunities for advancement; Jobs that offer living wages and benefits such as insurance are fulfilling and are positioned alongside colleagues without disabilities.
“This is for everyone, whether you have a disability or not, everyone wants to enjoy their job,” says Lyons. “And also living wages. Living with disabilities is expensive and health care is expensive and everyone needs these things. A specific look at these values benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities. “
On the days when she’s not teaching, Lyons, who has a masters degree in creative writing, writes and holds on a freelance basis. Without access to adequate job insurance, the Affordable Care Act describes her as a “literal lifesaver” because drugs to treat her epilepsy were very expensive. If she doesn’t have a typical 9-to-5 schedule, she won’t be able to use public transport as often, which has also been an obstacle in the past.
“Even if I feel a little underemployed, this is a wonderful job for me,” she says.
Dave Griffin has struggled to keep a job over the years, especially when he didn’t know it was on the autism spectrum – he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 45. He has degrees from Duke University and Vanderbilt University, but says the social work aspects were often far more demanding than the responsibilities themselves. For example, he once asked a customer if she was pregnant. It wasn’t her. Griffin says that he now realizes the mistake of his kind and is constantly caught out, but that social cues are just not a matter of course for someone like him.
“It’s like, I know how to put a $ 10 bill in a cash register and give someone $ 5 change, so why do I have to study?” Griffin says. “Well, all those soft skills like greeting someone, smiling, saying something appropriate, thanking them, doing all these things. That’s probably more of the job than just giving them change for a 10. “
He now works part-time at Autism Tennessee and hopes to be hired full-time in the future. Griffin believes it is important that people on the spectrum work on these soft skills, while at the same time employers should accept the social cue issues that people on the spectrum face.
“I think we all do and say things that could have been put more professionally,” says Griffin. “I am of the opinion that people in the spectrum should be kept to the same standards of behavior as all other employees. Ultimately, however, employees can only appeal to the fairness of the employer. There is differentiated treatment in the workplace, and I hope employers understand that keeping everyone by different standards of behavior, whether they have autism or not, can be problematic. “
Lyons, who was in elementary school when the ADA was in existence, says her generation was in “survival mode” when it came to advocating opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I think now we can start thinking about getting people to jobs they enjoy, ”says Lyons. “And not just a job as a bare goal, but one of the things we can think of right now is ‘Okay, do you enjoy your job?’ Not just ‘Do you have a job?’ I think this is the next step. Whereas the ADA has just laid the bare bones and now we’re thinking about building on that. “