According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is roughly double that of Temporarily Able Bodied people (TABs). This is likely an underestimate for many reasons. Disabled people are also more likely to work part time or be self-employed. There are many reasons for this. Blatant discrimination is, of course a factor, and probably a significant one. Subtler forms of discrimination and large scale public policy play just as large a role for many disabled people.
To disclose or not to disclose, and when to do so, is the first dilemma a disabled person faces. For me, I have decided, after years of experience and reflection, to disclose early in the job hunt. While my visual impairment is, relatively speaking, mild, it does affect the appearance of my eyes and how they move. People have made very unflattering assumptions about me because of the difference in appearance of my eyes. Moreover, by this point in my career, many of the publications, presentations and other professional activities are related to accessibility. I decided that I would rather control the narrative and people’s assumptions by disclosing that I am visually impaired.
The lack of public transportation in the USA has had a tremendous impact on my life. It limits my choice of housing as I have to live wherever I can find a safe walking route to work or a (rare) public transit stop. If affects my romantic life as many men do not want the burden of a partner who cannot drive or, even worse, believe it will make it easier to control me. I have dealt with both situations. Professionally, this limits the jobs I can take in several ways. Some library jobs require a driver’s license. In some cases this is legitimate. Far more often, it is questionable at best and something that could be worked around if the institution were the least bit creative.
This lack of public transportation is exactly why I found myself withdrawing from a search for a job I really liked, while unemployed during a pandemic with unemployment not seen since the great depression. I was at the end of my first round interview. I had a positive rapport with the search committee and the job sounded very appealing. Then we came to the part of the interview where it was my turn to ask questions. I asked about the reality of living without a car in the area where the university was located. I need either public transportation or housing options that would allow me to walk to campus. Neither was available in this case.
Ride sharing services are not a realistic option. They still do not operate in some parts of the US and/or do not operate reliably enough to serve as a viable commuting option. You cannot schedule a ride in advance in many places. Wondering if I could get an Uber in time to open the library the few Saturdays I worked at my last job was absolutely nerve racking. I’d plan ahead as much as possible, but until I actually rolled up to the library, I was terrified something would go wrong. Of course, a colleague who could drive might have unexpected car trouble. That is something most people have experienced and, assuming it didn’t happen often, is not evidence that the person is unreliable. Let’s be real, disabled people are already seen as a burden by most employers, best not to remind them that you aren’t normal.
That’s not even taking into account the cost. The IRS reimburses mileage at $0.58 per mile. I know that number is not perfect but it at least gives an objective number to work from. Calculating a cost per mile on Uber is challenging. One page suggests $2.00 as an average. Given that the published cost per mile, booking fee and minimum fare, this seems a reasonable estimate. It also tracks with my experience at my previous position. I had a 3 mile commute and paid somewhere around $8-10 per ride ($10-12 with tip). (Uber prices vary by time and other factors.) On the weekends when I worked, I was spending north of $40 for two days of commuting. This is not sustainable as an every day expense. This doesn’t even get into all the extra expenses that go along with a disability. In my case, I often found myself paying more in rent due to location restrictions. I also do not have the option of couponing and comparison shopping for groceries, so I am paying more than I have to for groceries. This is referred to as the disability tax.
Job hunting, like dating, is a numbers games. The more jobs I am excluded from, the longer and harder my job search is. It’s no wonder that disabled people are unemployed at double the rate of TABs. Yet, there is no extended unemployment or other financial assistance available for disabled people who work and find themselves laid off. We are wasting talent and consigning disabled people to lives that are diminished more by the indifference of society than any physical or mental disability.