toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

May 04, 2010

disabled and discouraged

Colleen is 26 and was confined to a wheelchair two years ago after an automobile accident left her a paraplegic. She desperately needs to find a job so that she can afford a specially-modified place where she can achieve a more independent lifestyle but the social barriers that ostracize her from mainstream life are more crippling than her disability.

"I'm philosophical about my fate," says Colleen, "it was my fault, nobody else was to blame, and when things get me down I recall all the good memories of my life before the accident and I feel better."

Colleen shares a community-run house with a variety of similarly ‘imperfect’ people - some old, some young, some mildly disabled, some severely disabled.

Carers and assistants are resident in the house, and all meals, washing and general housework are done by them.

"Community living is better than living at home and being a burden on my parents," says Colleen, "and it’s great having friends around me 24/7."

"We’re a family here, but it’s nevertheless an institution and I yearn for the day when I can afford a specially-modified place where my friends and I can achieve a more independent lifestyle - and hopefully find a boyfriend."

In order to afford such a place, though, Colleen and her friends have to find a job and earn some money, and this is becoming an impossibility for them.

Unfortunately, in life, and on the job hunting scene particularly, Colleen accepts that everyone demands physical perfection.

She makes the point, however, that she is not suffering from physical disability.

"I am not ill," sighs Colleen, "but I am suffering emotionally from the social barriers that ostracize me from mainstream life."

Colleen is often only limited in employment by the physical barriers of the workplace.

"If there are steps in the building or if there are no special toilet facilities," says Colleen, "I am excluded from employment immediately and legally."

Colleen wonders whether trying to find employment is worth all the humiliation she has to go through. She’s wondering whether she should settle for a welfare check and give up her dream to become fully independent.

"In today's employment market when people with 100% ability are being laid off jobs and spending months, if not years, looking for a new job and still not getting a job commensurate in pay and conditions to the one they once enjoyed," says Colleen, "I guess I should accept it as a fact of life that those who have disabilities - especially if the disabilities are easily visible or discernable - are totally out of luck."

"When times get tough," says Colleen, "the weak and vulnerable do indeed get trampled upon."

"Even on the streets I get trampled on," laughs Colleen. "One day I wheeled down the road to test my skills and got stranded on the sidewalk with a parked car blocking my path."

"Luckily a woman came along and assisted me by knocking on all the houses to see who owned the car."

"The car owner was soon found and he was very apologetic," explains Colleen, "but as soon as I wheeled by, he drove right back up onto the sidewalk and I screamed at him! He had a garage but he was too lazy to use it."

"I suppose old women with walking frames have the same problem when out walking, so even age is becoming a disability in our society," sighs Colleen.

"I think, too, that one of the many barriers to employing older workers is the belief that their health is not going to be as good as that of a younger person. An older person who takes a few days off sick for a common complaint is going to be treated very differently from a younger person having the same complaint and taking as much, if not more, time off work. It is going to be a definite black mark in their employment record. As unfair as the practice is, the HR clerk will mark their file ‘physically unfit’. For this reason, many older workers refuse to disclose their health problems and consequently take terrible risks in the workplace."

"With that sort of petty discrimination going on against older workers," says Colleen, "just imagine the uphill battle a disabled person has in finding and keeping a job. For me, just getting up, dressed and transported to an interview is a logistics exercise worthy of a military deployment."

"What is interesting about this whole disability issue," says Colleen, "is that those who have invisible disabilities - or disabilities that are not readily discernable, such as diabetes, epilepsy, mental illness, etc - are often able to circumvent the barriers to employment even though some of these disabilities are far more of a risk than the ‘visible’ disabilities.

Everyone has a workplace story about some co-worker who went into a diabetic coma, had an epileptic fit or went berserk. Very few people have a workplace story about a person with a clearly visible or discernible disability, yet we are the ones who bear the brunt of discrimination."

"I am receiving help from specialists to get me back into the workforce," says Colleen, "but I feel that they are just knocking on closed business doors behind which closed business minds reside."

"There is an ‘industry’ built around providing help for the disabled," explains Colleen, "and the people employed in this industry naturally have a vested interest in keeping their jobs. And therein lies a conflict of interest."

"If the ‘disability’ industry admitted that it really cannot help us find jobs," says Colleen, "then it would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. We are the bread and butter of the disability industry, and some of the guys employed in those places are being downright cruel in continuing to encourage us to seek work in the face of total disinterest from employers."

"Officially, as a society, we are committed to funding the training, counseling and employment placement of disabled citizens," says Colleen, "but think about it. Is it really kinder to give hope of a mainstream job, building up expectations beyond reality; or is it kinder to admit that if a 100% able-bodied person is having trouble finding employment then disabled job-applicants like me have no hope whatsoever?"

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