Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be disabled? The disability itself isn’t easy. But another problem you face is disability discrimination.
Disability discrimination means prejudiced actions against disabled people. Discrimination is part of ableism. While things are changing, ableism continues to be a problem.
The government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to fight ableism. This has helped, but discrimination still exists. Here’s what it looks like today.
What Discrimination Involves
Discrimination takes many forms. This includes gender, race, LGBT+ identity, religion, disability, and more. It usually targets vulnerable groups.
Discrimination can happen anywhere: at work, school, on social occasions, at the doctor’s office, and beyond. For example, ignoring qualified disabled candidates while hiring is discrimination. So is creating buildings that aren’t accessible.
Disability Discrimination at School
This can start at a young age. After all, not all teachers act patient with disabled kids’ needs. For example, some kids might need to fidget or wear headphones to focus. But teachers may think they’re trying to behave badly. So they punish them and blame them for struggling.
Classmates can be problems too. They might bully their disabled peers, even if they don’t know the kid is disabled. Too many kids punish “weird” people. And the teacher may tell the kid it’s their fault.
We all know that being treated badly hurts. But it can hurt students’ studies too. If a student gets treated badly at school, then they may start to hate school. It’s hard to focus on learning when people attack you with words or fists.
School isn’t a nightmare for every disabled kid. But it happens too often to too many people.
Disability Discrimination at Work
Graduation doesn’t stop the problems. Finding a job is harder if employers don’t want to look past the disability. Unfortunately, services might not help enough.
Businesses still discriminate. Employers want talented workers who create quality work under pressure. They might think disabled people can’t do this. Thus, they might ignore disabled candidates. They see them as a possible liability and ignore their strengths. For example, half of managers don’t feel comfortable hiring a neurodivergent person.
“Red,” an autistic young adult, describes fears about how coworkers might see them.
What happens when I can’t act non-autistic? When I fail to read between the lines or when I can’t focus in an open office? Will they help me or will they say I’m not trying hard enough? I try so hard but the beginning takes extra work.
When people see my disability, they often overlook my ability. But both are real. I would like an employer who understands both. But many think the two can’t coexist. And autism is hard to hide.“Red,” who uses a nickname online
Sadly, Red’s fears don’t lack evidence.
Even if you get a job, you may face workplace bullies. Sometimes, it turns extreme. For example, one autistic man’s coworkers beheaded his stuffed animals and locked him in a basement. Disabled bullying victims are over twice as likely to suffer physical violence compared to non-disabled victims.
This doesn’t mean there is no hope. Some disabled people find great jobs.
But too many don’t.
Jobless and Hopeless
This hurts disabled people in many ways. They may become isolated and at higher risk for depression and anxiety. Also, hiring discrimination can hurt their savings accounts. It may leave them without meaningful work.
Without wages, disabled people have to depend on others. Many of them don’t get enough help. As a result, their quality of life suffers. They may be stuck alone and in poverty.
This doesn’t just affect disabled people. How many disabled writers, athletes, accountants, and teachers are we missing out on? How many people are stuck on social security because no one wants to hire them? And how many end up isolated or mentally ill when they could be out helping society?
Many disabled people have good things to contribute. But if no one gives them a chance, how can they?
Disability Discrimination in Other Forms
Outside work, finding accessible hangout spots can be hard. Not all restaurants, museums, and malls are accessible. And if a friend group wants to go somewhere that’s not accessible, then they might leave out any disabled friends.
It can also happen at home. Family members may think that meeting a disabled person’s needs is “too much of a burden.” They may mistreat or neglect the disabled people in the family.
Sometimes, it can feel like no one wants a disabled person around. That’s a lonely feeling.
Fighting Disability Discrimination
People with disabilities and their supporters are calling for equality. Thus, some lawmakers are working on creating change.
The ADA is one of the biggest examples. It makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled workers.
The ADA addresses 5 major areas:
- Employment rights
- Public services
- Public accommodations
Private employers, governments, job agencies, and labor unions should not discriminate against disabled people. This includes hiring, firing, training, application, advancement, and pay.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) works to enforce the ADA. This helps keep things fair for disabled workers.
Thanks to this, more disabled people can find and keep jobs. This means they can be more independent. This is also good for their self-image and self-esteem. Disabled people have more control over their lives today.
Life has improved for disabled people, but it’s not enough. Discrimination still exists, so disabled people still get shut out.
It’s up to us to fight ableism. We can speak up to unfairness and prejudice. For example, we can fight for fair laws and tell people it’s not okay to make mean jokes. We can speak out when we see something wrong.
We can also choose inclusion. If a disabled friend can’t go to a certain place, we can find another hangout. We can smile and say hi to disabled people instead of ignoring them. And we can choose to see disabled people as normal people instead of burdens.
Above all, we need to listen to disabled people. If they say they were mistreated, that means something. They need people to listen to them instead of ignoring them.
A lot of little actions over time can make a big difference. Think about what you can do.