Working While Disabled: All About M.O.I. Versus the T.E.A.M. Access Approach

BIPAPST

Dear Respironics Bi-Pap S/T,

I’m feeling like such a loser because I can’t get hired for even one job and all I’m suddenly hearing about is this big push for disabled people to get employed. And then there are disabled people like this guy who act like it’s just my attitude that’s the problem.

Signed,

Feeling like an Uninspired, Unmotivated Kid with a Disability

Dear FUUKD,

First, take a deep (assisted) breath. Now let’s get your head right: Go watch the late (god, I hate writing that) Stella Young’s epic take-down of inspiration porn.

Sure, you’re going to hear that all landing a job, or whatever, really takes for a disabled person is to adopt the All About M.O.I. approach. That narrative certainly has the charm of simplicity, plus it comforts you by giving you all the control. Meaning:  If you’re not yet working, for example, it’s just that you’re not trying hard enough to:

Motivate yourself

Overcomerate your disability

Inspirate all who meet you with your “What, me disabled?” attitude

But there’s a more accurate name for this narrative: Magical thinking.


“As a Respironics Bi-Pap S/T, I support you venting because you have to manage your pressures and everyone’s settings are different. Venting, moreover, leads to bitching and bitching can lead to some very interesting shifts in what you think personal responsibility can accomplish versus what takes political action.”

When you tell people you’re bummed out because you want to work — which an old Delphi survey said of about 66% of disabled people  — other disabled people may either imply or tell you outright to stop being such a whiner. “Properly” motivated disabled people wow the world and their potential employers with their overcomerating and inspirate their way into the workforce.

Or so they would have you believe. They think this will be helpful; if it is, great.

A manual wheelchair. The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

By all means, if you’re a disabled person and your wheelchair or what-not starts getting lippy, tell it to lose the attitude.

I’d say what you’re doing is some necessary venting. As a Respironics Bi-Pap S/T, I support you venting because you have to manage your pressures and everyone’s settings are different. Venting, moreover, leads to bitching and bitching can lead to some very interesting shifts in what you think personal responsibility can accomplish versus what takes political action.

Let me tell you about my Host. Yes, she has a job right now. She has a career, for chrissakes. As well she should. She’s practically 50, she never had a kid, she graduated from college, she’s a native English speaker, her college-educated parents fought successfully for her early education, she was utterly at home within her family, she had opportunities to have friends who work and therefore a job-finding network, and then there’s her utterly blanched, bleached, pasty, whiter-than-white Whiteness.


“There’s no amount of personal pluckiness that’s going to defeat structural ableism and its systemic barriers born of — and well-maintained by — prejudice.”

My Host is pretty good at not blaming herself for stuff she can’t control but she has taken unemployment to heart at times when she knew, in her head, that her attitude was not the problem.

When potential jobs were in buildings that should have been accessible but weren’t.

When there was inadequate accessible public transportation.

When job duties could have been modified but the decision-makers wouldn’t accept a flexible solution.

When she worried about what would happen if she needed attendants but would be ineligible for public benefits to pay for them if she had a job.

This is reality for disabled people who want — who need — to work. There’s no amount of personal pluckiness that’s going to defeat structural ableism and its systemic barriers born of — and well-maintained by — prejudice.

Bootstraps do not get an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), install elevators, get the bus to stop for you, require audio stop info on the subway, caption the employee training video, remove the healthcare barriers that undermine employment, get a flexible schedule, prevent inappropriate school or work-related disciplinary action against neurodiverse people, or stop feeding kids of color with disabilities into the school-to-prison-pipeline instead of colleges and jobs.

Changing any of this takes — has taken and will continue to take — the T.E.A.M. Access approach to making employment a viable goal:

Transportation access

Education access

Architectural and communication access

Meaningful changes in public benefits, health care, and technology access

Up to a point, yes, it is You but it’s very much also Them. Changing how you present yourself is a relatively simple and rapid process compared to changing societal systems. By all means — believe in yourself and, if you can’t, fake it fake it fake it.

But always remember you’re part of a much bigger societal whole that has failings that are well beyond any pay grade you’re likely to command. Fixing these inequities takes political action over time to correct. You’re part of this civil rights history and part of its future.

7 thoughts on “Working While Disabled: All About M.O.I. Versus the T.E.A.M. Access Approach

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