There’s a look I often get when entering a room full of strangers, particularly for a job interview. I politely pretend not to notice while they mentally adjust to my admitted awkwardness. I see their brains churn as they strain to recall all the laws and best practices they think will keep me from suing them when they don’t hire me. They either rush through the interview or began to hang on my every word and shower me with glowing reviews because I’m way smarter than expected and so inspirational. Then I don’t get the job. It’s all really silly, and here’s why:
I’ve probably hit on this in previous posts/rants, because I say it constantly, like one of those baby dolls that spout prerecorded phrases when you pull the string. Every detail of my life requires a level of logistics I’ve come to realize a lot of people just aren’t capable of. Every minute of every day I’m scanning my surroundings for possible trip hazards, ramps, elevators and alternate routes. At the same time, I’m anticipating obstacles and developing strategies for accommodating myself so smoothly, you probably won’t even notice.
For you, the employer, this translates to creativity, a knack for avoiding the avoidable problems and solving the unavoidable ones, attention to detail, safety and a talent for streamlining policy and procedure.
It’s true that my disability makes me much more likely to fall than a typical employee. It’s also true that I make it look stylish. I’m well trained in the art/science of falling, thus in more than 30 years of crippledom, I’ve never sustained a significant injury in a fall. Furthermore, as a responsible adult who pays her own bills, I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I might sustain an injury that puts me out of work or jeopardizes my mobility. Trust me, I have more invested and more to lose than you do.
Let’s just pretend you hire me (see below for contact info), then I trip over something at work and …I don’t know…break my arm and try to file a workers’ comp claim. You’re insurance company will automatically reject it, saying I’m predisposed to fall. Then, I could only take you to court where the judge would require me prove that my pre-existing condition didn’t cause the fall, and I can’t definitively proof that.
I was once involved in a head-on collision that basically decimated both of my legs, resulting in several surgeries and a long, incomplete recovery. Even then, the court wanted proof that I was any more disabled than I had been before the wreck!
After a couple of great phone interviews, I showed up to a prospective employer for a skills test. I entered the door marked accessible to find myself in a tiny room with nothing in it but the huge flight of stairs that lead to the office and testing area. I explained to the manager that wouldn’t work and tried to convince him there had to me another way to get where he wanted me to go. He kept ensuring me that wasn’t the case and insisted I take the test anyway. I explained there wasn’t much point if the test was up those stairs. We continued like that for a while, and I left without taking the text.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated and determined that I had obviously been discriminated against, just not legally. They said I should have taken the test, then they would have quantifiable evidence the company hired someone less qualified than me. Let that sink in…the test was UP THE STAIRS…no elevator.
If they had ruled in my favor, the EEOC would have issued me a “Right to Sue” along with supporting evidence from their investigation. I would have to present that in court, and the best I could hope for is to be forcibly hired, maybe with a little back pay. Talk about putting a damper on the work environment! Then they could fire later me for pretty much whatever they want.
Like so may of our societal ills, all it takes to quell hiring discrimination is a little practical education. All my life I’ve put considerable effort into being smart, educated and capable, knowing I might be perceived to be less hirable than my peers. So far it seems no amount of preparation would be equal to my greatest barrier: public misconception.