Mollie Winninger, 27, is one of many Americans eager to join the job market to find a full-time job. In order to compete with many applicants, Winninger relied on a trick in her applications to increase her chances of getting an interview: refusing to reveal her disability.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 7.3% among people with disabilities in 2019 on Feb.26, a slight decrease from 8% in 2018. Still, people with disabilities are still likely to be unemployed twice as high as compared to those without disabilities.
That was the case with Winninger. During her time in graduate school, she was diagnosed with severe arthritis and POTS, a postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. She is in chronic pain because of her arthritis. One of her accommodations to manage her ailments at school included switching between sitting and standing during class. One day of home care per week was allowed in case Winninger’s pain was too severe and she could not attend class. POTS causes low blood pressure and high heart rate, making her prone to fainting.
After graduating in May 2019, she started looking for a job in August, hoping to find a place in pastoral care or in charitable organizations. She announced her disabilities at the start of her job search, but never heard from employers. “There’s a stigma attached to that that can unfortunately hurt your chances,” said Winninger. She found that this was true in her case, even though there are laws preventing employers from being discriminated against during the application process, such as Title I of the Disabled Americans Act, known as the ADA.
When she stopped disclosing her disabilities, the invitations for interviews came. After more than 50 applications, she has not yet found a full-time position. But she doesn’t know exactly why. “It’s hard not to get feedback on why they’re rejecting you,” said Winninger.
RespectAbility, a nonprofit committed to improving opportunities for people with disabilities, released its own report this week on the employment growth of people with disabilities. Although their report relies on 2018 data from the Census Bureau, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes updated 2019 data, it still shows the worrying nature of the workforce for people with disabilities.
According to RespectAbility, only 29,893 people with disabilities joined the workforce in 2018, compared to 343,000 two years ago. “Fewer and fewer people with disabilities are getting jobs, and that’s not a good thing,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, director of policies and practices at RespectAbility. Pauli explains that the Bureau of Labor Statistics report “is a simplified view of a very complex subject”.
One of the reasons RespectAbility saw a significant decrease in the number of people with disabilities in the workforce is because of the inflow and outflow of workers, according to Kahn-Pauli. People who entered the world of work for the first time left because there was no shelter for their disabilities. Technology has made it easier to hire and integrate some people with disabilities into the workforce, Kahn-Pauli said, but it does not include those with major disabilities like cerebral palsy and quadriplegics.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report came as no surprise to Azza Altiraifi, a research and advocacy manager for the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “They only confirmed what every disabled person living in this country knew,” said Altiraifi, “that is, our economic situation has not changed and it is only getting worse.”
Why people with disabilities have difficulty finding work
Altiraifi claims the ADA was not enforced and algorithmic assessments by large corporations add to the unemployment rate for people with disabilities. “What happens is that people with disabilities are filtered out because they are not presenting themselves in a way that these algorithmic assessments see as normative,” Altiraifi explained.
The Brookings Institution has taken note of concerns about the use of employment algorithms such as artificial intelligence. If an applicant with a disability shows facial features or mannerisms that the algorithm is unfamiliar with during a video interview, the individual will receive a low score on their application.
Other complex issues add to the unemployment rate, especially when it comes to the racial demographics of people with disabilities. For example, unemployment among African American and Latino people with disabilities has increased since last year, according to the report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kahn-Pauli says one reason for the rise in unemployment among the Latino population is fear of President Donald Trump’s administration. For example, on February 24, the public fee rule went into effect banning those likely to use public services from entering the United States. This also affects those who have previously used public services and are trying to change their status as nonimmigrants.
The government’s focus on enforcing immigration regulations and passing on public fees fueled the fear of immigrants with and without disabilities. “This fear leads to people not disclosing their disabilities,” said Kahn-Pauli, “or seeking help to overcome employment barriers.”
In response to Kahn-Pauli’s testimony regarding the impact of public prosecution on people with disabilities in Latino, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service spokesman referred to his policy guide to CNBC Make It. Although a disability diagnosis is a negative factor if one Preventing a person from fending for himself, “A disability affecting the applicant’s ability to care for himself or herself, attend school or work cannot be the only basis for an inadmissibility determination.”
But there are also worrying circumstances for those who live in the United States. In African American communities, many students drop out of school and most likely end up in jail because the schools do not address disabilities, Kahn-Pauli said.
Once released from prison, the stigma of being an ex-scammer prevents job security. “The deck is stacked against African Americans with disabilities,” he said.
As employers are struggling with a labor shortage, Kahn-Pauli sees this as an opportunity for the federal government to rally and talk about ways to recruit people with disabilities. “We have millions of Americans who want to work,” he said. “What do we have to do to hire them?”
Although the job market may look bleak, Mollie Winninger remains confident of working with communities in need. “My dream job would be one where I could have a sense of purpose and help people every day,” she said, “and take advantage of the education I’ve worked very hard for.”
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