Challenged But Not Disabled

It's tough breaking into the job market when you're physically challenged. However, with planning and persistence you can overcome barriers to your success.

into low-paying jobs with no future.” Most of the blacks who attend her organization’s support meetings earn $5-$7 an hour or work only a few days a week, whether they have degrees or not. “Employers tend to see our race first, then the disability,” she says.

“We tend to be on the fringes of the support available to others and dismissed too quickly by companies that still operate with a fear of full diversity,” says Sylvia Walker, Ed.D., director of the Howard University Research and Training Center for Access to Rehabilitation and Economic Opportunity, in Washington, D.C. She points out that employers also mistakenly believe that accommodating a person with a disability can be costly, or that the person will have attendance problems or be a drain on healthcare budgets. “The average cost of a job accommodation is approximately $300,” she says. “And people with disabilities actually have better attendance records, on average, than able-bodied employees and use the same amount of medical benefits.”

One goal, according to Claudie Grant Jr., program manager for the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, is to mobilize the black business community to employ more black people with disabilities, and to increase access to employment services and support. Blind since birth, Grant works tirelessly to convince various advocacy groups, including the National Urban League and the NAACP, to take more creative approaches to extending their services to the black disabled community.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to ensure that the disabled have equal opportunities in employment, government services and access to public locations. Robinson remembers how it was before the ADA. After misdirected gunfire left her paralyzed from the chest down in 1977, she worked as a data transcriber for the IRS from 1982-88. Robinson recalls the horror of not having a restroom on her floor that she could get into with her wheelchair. I fought thee and other battles, to no avail, for four years. I finally had to leave,” she says.

Under the ADA, companies with 15 or more employees are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace. “Employers now know they can’t discriminate against the disabled without consequences,” says Grant. “[This] has opened a few more doors — although not as many as we would like.”

Psychological barriers are also tough to overcome. “Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some people continue to equate physical disabilities with intellectual disabilities,” says Deb Horsley, human resources associate at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Greystone Park, New Jersey. “Others feel uncomfortable around people who act, sound or look different from what they’re used to seeing and prefer not to have them on the team.”

From the standpoint of diversity, this attitude represents shortsightedness on the part of large companies and small businesses. “Companies that are truly diverse understand the value of having as many perspectives and experiences as possible represented on their team,” Horsley explains. “It stimulates creativity and helps them reach a wider range of

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