Celebrating National Disabled Employment Awareness Month

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

This month is National Disability Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month! Oh boy! We have a month all to ourselves! How lucky can we get?

Ok, so I am a bit sarcastic. It seems that the only people who know about this wonderful awareness month are the people who are disabled. How about if 20/20 or CNN.com do a special report on our society’s progress in all areas of a disabled person’s life?

Perhaps we could have guest speakers and a day off from work in honor of those who paved the path for our wheelchairs, crutches, scooters, canes, prosthetic limbs.

Work? Did I really say that?

The disabled population has the lowest rate of employment than any other minority group. I don’t need a reporter to tell me this. I see it every day. If more disabled people were employed there would be less gawking in the streets. People wouldn’t open their mouths and rudely point at someone in an electric wheelchair.

Maybe I am not the appropriate person to discuss this topic since I am employed as a public school teacher but then again, maybe I am the right person to speak out about the injustices in our disabled community.

I receive literally hundreds of letters from people with disabilities who so desperately wish to work, to feel productive, to contribute to society.

It is not merely their desire that will find them an employment opportunity it is skill, education, support, and acceptance that will ensure they maintain a worthwhile job.

But where do we start? As an educator, I can tell you that it starts the minute we are born. Whether we are born disabled or become disabled later on in life, if there is one factor that will guarantee us success it is an education.

Not all education must come from a classroom. But it is the best place to begin. So many times, I speak to intelligent people with physical disabilities who can not even do the basic fundamentals such as writing and mathematical skills.

Education is not merely acquiring knowledge but applying social values and morals to our lives. What good does it do to have a Ph.D or MD if you are a narrow minded prejudice jerk! Jerk! That’s right I said it. I suppose you were expecting an educated term for jerk but I can’t find one.

All over the world, there are millionaires and billionaires who head enormous corporations and have the capacity and ability to hire qualified people with disabilities but choose not to because of image problems. The real image problem is not the person with the disability but the company who refuses to hire them.

I have searched everywhere and I can’t find one place that would provide me with data as to how many people with physical disabilities work in companies earning more than 2 million dollars a year in revenue.

There must be some task that a person in a wheelchair or scooter or visual impairment can do in their work places.

Of course, once the person gets hired there are the other little things that get in the way like oh shall we say, taking a shower? Yeah, it’s those little obstacles that can really ruin a perfect relationship at the workplace.

There is a solution but that would be too easy and it would boost employment rate across the board. Instead of paying people with disabilities to stay home and live in a low income house, the government could train unemployed able bodied people who could assist the disabled people with their personal care.

The person could probably help two or three people a day depending on the disabled person’s work schedule. This would be a win win situation.

In previous articles, I have discussed transportation and education in great detail. It mind boggles me to know that a simple common sense could help a huge portion of the disabled population around the world.

But nothing, no matter how many specially equipped vans, accessible entrances, personal care assistants, and college diplomas can replace the one factor that is greatly needed and blatantly neglected- acceptance.

It is the one obstacle that is guaranteed to keep millions of intelligent people with physical disabilities in a constant state of depression, low self esteem, living in low income housing with minimal care for their physical, emotional, and social well being.

So while I can celebrate the fact that I am a physically disabled full time employee, I empathize with the ones still looking out the window hoping that someone will look back in with a smile, a hand up, and an open mind.
Do you agree? Let us know. nathasha@audacitymagazine.com