Applying for a Job with a Disability, as Told by Me

Friends whom I haven’t talked to in a while – those who know I’ve graduated from college – are excited to hear how I’m doing. “How’s the real life?” they exclaim. I say I’m doing ok, nothing too surprising or thrilling. I describe it simply, plainly. But reality is so far from that.

Real life is me, staring at my laptop, deciding between revealing or not revealing. Do I say that I use a scooter in my cover letters? How much of that matters? I’ve received advice from both sides, to hold off saying it until I get an interview or no – say it right from the get go – there’s nothing to be ashamed about, and a prospective company should know. Since graduation, I’ve been doing the latter because I guess it would be weird if I didn’t mention my disability since it’s something that I cannot hide. Say I get called in for an interview. They’d immediately see me in my scooter. They could feel offended for me not having told them beforehand. But then the other side of me asks, why does knowing truly matter? My disability doesn’t affect how I work. In college, I never needed extra time to take an exam or a different desk to attend class. I’m not saying this to brag; in fact, I acknowledge that in a way, although I have a disability, I am privileged, for mine is not debilitating to the point in which I cannot take care of myself. So, with this logic I think, how much of it matters? When I am writing my cover letters, I do sometimes feel stuck when I reach the sentence where I say that I have a disability. I feel as if I’m going off tangent. It’s like, “oh by the way I use a scooter, but don’t worry – I am fully capable of doing the job, obviously. Please don’t worry. Anyway…” (I say this in a more refined manner, of course.)

I’ve never had this dilemma before because when I wrote my personal statement for college applications, I chose to talk about my disability and that decision didn’t hurt me. It was the first time in my life when I wrote about it and I underestimated the task; it was harder than I thought it would be. My disability doesn’t encompass me entirely, but it is definitely an important component of who I am. It was easy though, to slip into the cliché of using disability to send an inspirational message, like “look at me, despite using a scooter I got a really high GPA and I worked so hard.” The truth is, I did study hard. I busted my ass, but so did a lot of other people – people who don’t have disabilities and are able-bodied. It is extremely difficult to acknowledge to others that I have worked hard despite having a disability while not letting that become the so-called “free-ticket” into attaining success. The realistic side of me reminds me by saying life should not automatically reward you for enduring through your struggles. But the idealistic side of me aches for that and wishes for it to be true.

Applying to universities and the work force is radically different, though. Colleges, at least the ones that I applied to, are open-minded and welcoming of diversity. They like individualistic stories, ones that stand out, of people you don’t usually hear about on a daily basis. Companies, however, have a different agenda. The workforce is all about efficiency, speed, and accuracy – there is hardly any room for error and being able to excel in a given task is more important than one’s personality. Upon realizing this I am lost. I know that there are so many other graduates struggling to find a job like me but I can’t help thinking, “at least you’re able-bodied” when I think about the many ways that can define privilege. Privilege means it’s easier to blend in with the rest of the crowd, although society tells us to stand out, to be unique.

My friend decided to graduate early from college and recently I met up with her for lunch. We shared the same worries of getting a job and earning money. I joked to her, “I have more faith in you than I have faith in myself” and laughed. But when I’m writing this, when my dad told me to consider getting an accounting certificate “because truth is, your English major isn’t lucrative” although I don’t regret having majored in it, when I hear about a friend getting a new job, when I’m thinking about what the hell am I doing and what will my 20s look like, I’m not laughing.

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