I feel as though there’s a massive gap, at least in social services, for people who have significant disabilities, but don’t have the sorts of impairments that would completely exclude them from work. For the United States government, there’s the assumption that if you’re not 100% barred from being able to do work, then you don’t need help, which is a facile and ridiculous assumption. It’s as though there’s this bipolar conception of disability: you’re either Totally Disabled™, or not, and that doesn’t apply to a lot of people with disabilities, including us. There’s a massive gap in services for people whose disabilities rest on this ‘borderline’. It’s important to serve those who absolutely cannot work, obviously. That being said, there need to be effective programmes or initiatives in place for those of us who have restrictions on what we can do, but don’t need to use government benefits for extended periods of time.
We’re capable of handling certain aspects of independent living, but not everything that people are expected to. There are limitations on where we can work, and what we can do, mostly because of the things I mentioned in ‘Stimulus Storage’. But it’s not as though we are absolutely unable to handle these things: it’s just that we have specific challenges that we’d like to get help with. We have some work experience, mostly obtained via internships, student jobs and volunteer opportunities, and I think that we have enough selves-knowledge to recognise what’s a good fit, and what’s not. But since we’re not entirely incapable of working part-time, there’s this assumption that we should do everything the way ‘typical’ people do, right down to the ‘typical people’ jobs that most students our age (mid-20s) take. Or, we should try and go on benefits, and make it seem as though we can’t do anything at all, which isn’t 100% true.
There’s this horrible false dichotomy that we’re trapped in, and it’s rather ableist, actually, because it disempowers people with disabilities to make effective choices regarding their careers and livelihoods. ‘Either you’re totally disabled, or not disabled at all. Either your struggles totally prevent you being able to participate in the economy, or you’ll be forced to compete with able-bodied or neurotypical people without any help.’ For some people, not working at all is the answer; for some people, their disabilities don’t affect their ability to work; and for others, the situation is between these two poles. People shouldn’t be forced to fit their lives between these two poles in order to survive. There are a lot of people who go for years going from dead-end job to dead-end job—or live in the streets because they can’t even get dead-end jobs—because they’re not considered ‘disabled’ enough to receive benefits, but aren’t able to break into the workforce in the way they’d like, whether it’s because of lack of guidance, lack of formal education or some other factor that’s beyond their direct control. The result is people who get despondent about being in the workforce in the first place, or being unable to perform at their best because of this bipolar conceptualisation of disability. Seriously, now, there is a lot of untapped talent amongst these people, and it’s upsetting to think that all of these people who could be contributing their skills are being shut out because the playing field simply isn’t level enough for them.
In our case, what we run up against is a mixture of credentialism, inappropriate jobs and bad scheduling. We don’t have the time or energy to work full time at this point; we’re full time students, and a full time job would take a lot of our energy away. Part-time work and full-time education has worked before, and that’s our absolute limit. Most work available to undergraduate students tends to be retail, food-service and similar jobs, and those jobs are entirely inappropriate for our brain-type, so we don’t even look for them or apply, because we know from experience that they’re bad. They’re not particularly healthy for a lot of people, but it’s not just a matter of ‘grinning and bearing it’; we can’t bear them, much less grin. And then there are the jobs that we’d perform just fine, at least according to the job descriptions posted online, but they all seem to want BA degrees, or more. And since we’re still trying to get a degree, those are out. Our interviewing skills vary from time to time: sometimes we come across fine; other times, we’re a bit wonky and unsure, and it’s nothing to do with how we’d perform the actual job.
I’m certain there are probably good jobs out there, but a lot of them require ‘networking’, which we’re not particularly talented at on our own. It’s something a lot of autistic people struggle with. We have fairly good social skills for autistic people—most of our adult struggles are related to sensory and environmental stuff, as opposed to basic social skills—but this ‘networking’ business? Not particularly easy. Talking to people and holding normal conversations is one thing; talking to people to try and get yourself an ‘in’ is another. There’s also some intersection with plurality: it’s hard to sell yourselves as a singlet when you’re actually several people, and a lot of the skills we have belong to specific people. Noël and I tend to do the bulk of our paid work, so it’s generally just the two of us trying to sell our skills, but it’s still hard to do the ‘selling’ thing in the first place. We couldn’t be salespeople.
We know other people with disabilities who have similar issues: they have employable skills, and could benefit from being in supportive workplaces, but have a hard time going through the job-searching rigamarole, and could use specialised, appropriate help in navigating this stuff. There are a few things I’d like to see in place: job placements for people with high skill levels, but struggle with a lot of the typical ‘job search’ strategies. There are people who would perform well on the job, but run into issues actually looking for them, and the problem can’t be solved with just tossing more interview labs, ‘job skills’ classes and CV/resume workshops at them. If a nonprofit programme had a working relationship with some employers, clients of these nonprofits would be able to work for these employers and bypass some of that stuff and have a chance to prove themselves on the job. Accommodations exist once the person has the job, but what about people who need to be ‘accommodated’ when looking for jobs? This is an area we struggle with, ourselves. A database of employers who are willing to work with people and accommodate for different disabilities during the interview and after hiring people would be an awesome idea, as well. I think some may exist, but I’m not 100% certain; I’d have to do a bit more research. I know there are websites that are geared towards jobseekers with disabilities, but they feel a bit more like typical job banks, and I think I’ve seen enough of those.
It’s this massive gap, as I said, and I wish I could find a way to fill it. I’ve been floating the idea of a consultancy, and a resource guide, but I’m not certain whether that would get off the ground. The aforementioned ‘networking’ issues would make it difficult, too, because startups require lots of it. Getting investors involves selling. It’s not as though we have unlimited time, either, being full-time students getting ready to finish up their associate’s degree this year, and then going through the awesome hell of applying to universities and working on personal statements and collating transcripts and retaking the SATs and everything else, so we’re not exactly made of time, as I said. Or, er, startup capital. I just…I’ve got to solve this, somehow. For us, and for people with similar issues. I don’t know how, but I’ll try and work something out.