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Job Creation and Employment for People with Disabilities

The ways in which politicians and leaders in our country talk about obtaining a job is as though someone comes around waving a wand and under their reform, if you want a job, you get a job (used a lot of restraint to not include an Oprah meme here). They say that the issue is that the jobs don’t exist, but once the jobs are created, all of our problems will be solved. As a rehabilitation counselor, I find this narrative troubling in a number of ways. While I don’t disagree that a job, and income coming into someone’s home is an invaluable asset, I think that this narrative oversimplifies the experiences and challenges of employment, unemployment, and underemployment. Especially for historically marginalized groups including and most significantly, people with disabilities.

In rehabilitation counseling we believe that all people have worth and are deserving of dignity and respect. In practice most frequently this means that we facilitate goal attainment for individuals with disabilities. As such, our training involves extensive discussion and consideration of employment: the relationship of employment to quality of life, the importance of a feeling of satisfaction about the work one does, feelings of inadequacy and loss due to job loss, etc. My experience in learning, applying, and now teaching this information tells me that simply creating jobs is not the solution to employment for individuals with disabilities.

I understand that the economy plays a role in employment in general, and therefore, in employment for individuals with disabilities. What I do not understand is how a system that inherently works against functional solutions for education and employment for this vast group of people conceptualizes that simply the creation of positions would affect this population in any way. Creating jobs helps people without disabilities (who are likely White) that do not struggle with navigating public systems. The creation of jobs does nothing to combat centuries of systemic oppression that exists within all facets of employment for people with disabilities and other historically marginalized identities.

If the economy is “thriving", why can’t we work to make public transportation accessible and adherent to universal design standards? If the economy is thriving, why can’t we work to create better infrastructure within public vocational rehabilitation programs where case loads are over 100? It seems to me that broad claims about improvements in the economy and job creation have generally minimal impact on the lives of people with disabilities who experience chronic under- and unemployment.

I ask that you consider all of this in your training programs and personal practices. “Just go get a job” is a great goal, sure, but it is also an ableist notion. Essentially, people who suggest that someone should go out and “just get a job” no matter what that job is, is suggesting that the person receiving that suggestion does not deserve nor require choice in employment setting.

Originally posted by the American Counseling Association on 1/27/20

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