Employment Hurdles Grow for People With Disabilities

Employment Hurdles Grow for People With Disabilities
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It may be odd to loathe an inanimate object, but I do. I didn’t always. The first newsroom I entered was filled with cubicles with majestic walls. Appointed a seat, elbow-to-elbow with my editor, I longed for that prime real estate. After landing it, chatty offices became a trend and partitions were lowered to enable face-to-face interactions. That change led to my downfall and cubicle contempt.

It wasn’t immediate. It was many years and cubicles later, after pulmonary sarcoidosis forced me to take prednisone. I sat across from someone who took pride in working even while sick. Immunosuppressed and within 6 respiratory-droplet-feet of his coughs, I paid the price every time he did. 

The low walls of my partitioned space provided a clear path for jettisoned germs. The less lofty divisions also meant more noise, distractions, and difficulty working with cognitive issues. My health worsened, I lost my job, and I blame cubicles (yes, I know it’s weird).

Americans with disabilities have long faced employment challenges. Just 19.3% held jobs last year, compared to a 66.3% employment-population ratio for those without disabilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Labor Day approaches in the U.S., a new report raises concerns about our population’s long-term job prospects. 

The pandemic hit those with disabilities in the workforce harder, the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability reported in May. The number of employed individuals in this population plummeted by 950,000 between March and April alone. Following months of improvement, the labor participation rate of working-age Americans with disabilities dipped between June and July, which the organizations said raises red flags. 

“It suggests that workers are losing their jobs permanently after being on furlough, and have stopped looking for work and thus, exited the labor force,” economist Andrew Houtenville, PhD, research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, said in the organization’s monthly report.

Despite the 30-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act, many still battle bias and discrimination in the workplace. Many fear termination or reprisal if they disclose health issues or ask for accommodations. 

A reader with stage 4 pulmonary sarcoidosis worried at the start of the pandemic that he would be laid off if he expressed concerns about safety. Another, a nurse with a 12-year history of pulmonary sarcoidosis, was rebuffed when she inquired about stopping work briefly to self-quarantine.

“I get a response like I just don’t want to work,” she commented on one of my columns. 

I was previously denied the new norm of working from home, as were others. Employers fought in court to prevent this in some instances, and they overwhelmingly won.  

A total of 68.4% of people with disabilities strive to work, according to the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey. They had jobs, were searching for jobs, or have been employed since becoming disabled. The top three barriers they faced were pay discrimination and the attitudes of their supervisor and co-workers, the survey said. 

This Labor Day, I urge employers to review the diversity in their workforce. Ask yourselves what you are doing to encourage and support employment of those with disabilities. A ready, willing, and talented pool awaits. Isn’t it time you give them a fair shot?

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Brighter side: We all could use a break from bad news right now. So, I’ll be closing my columns with a roundup of positivity until we are able to say goodbye to masks, hug our loved ones, and leave our homes without fear.

  • Third time’s a charm: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson struck a deal to assume ownership of the XFL. It will be the third rebirth of the Vince McMahon pro football league, which arrived in 2001 and folded after one season, then was crushed again this year by the COVID-19 pandemic. The league plans to begin play in February 2021. 
  • Dog brews: Busch Beer has launched a new beer, but it’s not for people — it’s for dogs. Four packs of the alcohol-free, canine-friendly bone broth go for $9.99, People reported. Apparently it’s popular because last week it was sold out on Busch’s website, which also sells other dog brew merchandise like collars, leashes, and bowls. Alcohol and hops are toxic for dogs, so don’t share any beer with them, but help yourself to a dog brew. It may taste bland, but it’s safe for human consumption, too.  

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Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.

Athena, a former journalist and Pennsylvania native, was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2002. She’s admittedly addicted to books, Marvel, and football. She tackles life with humor, passion and curiosity, and hopes to reach others through her writing.
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Athena, a former journalist and Pennsylvania native, was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2002. She’s admittedly addicted to books, Marvel, and football. She tackles life with humor, passion and curiosity, and hopes to reach others through her writing.
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