I am back for a double-titled post after what has probably been one of the busiest work weeks in recorded history. I’m talking over 14,000 words typed, plus a project that necessitated writing 20 300-word children’s stories for kids under 7. Yes, I earned my bread and butter this week.
I didn’t actually think much about it though, until I saw the following video about two young women with Down Syndrome from Fairmont, Minnesota. I’m going to embed the link so you can watch it here:
Did you notice the same discrepancies I did? I’ll bet you did. Suzie works in a hotel, where she has a variety of different duties as a breakfast hostess. She regularly interacts with people who do not have disabilities. She was noticed and praised for a work ethic, and given opportunities and choices through a career training program. She is regularly told that she can do things, and that she does have a future. The goal, her job coach states, is for any employee to look at Suzie and think, “Why wouldn’t she be kept on at this job?”
Erin works in a sheltered workshop. Her environment is segregated; the only people without disabilities she regularly seems to interact with, are supervisors. She is paid a sub-minimum wage and her pay is based on speed. In other words, if she can’t keep up the way that a person without Down Syndrome would, she is effectively punished. She will probably work years or even decades without ever making minimum wage. She will therefore not be able to provide for herself. She states that she loves kids and wants to open her own daycare center, but at the present time, this may never happen. Erin is given no choice in the job she performs, and is stuck in a “wait and see” holding pattern while others decide for her what she is allowed to do.
Now, you all already know how I feel about this. It’s bunk. It presumes incompetence and is grossly unfair. If supervisors paid workers without disabilities sub-minimum wage, and calculated those wages based on speed alone, they would be considered on the wrong side of the law. Yet if the worker has a disability, it’s somehow okay?
I also find it disheartening and infuriating that people with disabilities are given so little choice in their careers, and that community support is so lacking. We say we want PWDs to work in our businesses. To be blunt, I say we lie. We don’t want employees, we want janitors. We want people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities to clean up after us so we can hand them a dollar and pat them on the head and tell ourselves we’ve done our good deed for the year.
Cut the bull, people. Cut. The. Bull.
What should jobs for people with disabilities look like? Well, the short answer might be, the same as they look for people without them. But I am aware some PWDs are better suited for some jobs than others and may need a lot of support. For example, Erin should probably not manage a daycare center alone–but she could work in one and do well with community support. So, here are a few tips:
Jobs for people with disabilities should pay them a living wage. Period. End of discussion. Wages should not be based on speed, number of products made, compensatory policies, or any other arbitrary crap. People with disabilities should have the chance to support themselves like everyone else.
Jobs for PWDs should consist of different duties and opportunities. I know some PWDs are probably happy as clams packing boxes. But if one thing is all you ever do day after day, you are going to get bored. Jobs for PWDs should have choices involved, and the people should be asked what they want to do. Then, supervisors should listen.
Jobs for PWDs should be integrated. Guys, stop blaming PWDs and punishing them for “acting disabled” (and by the way, what’s up with that), when the only people you let them socialize with are others who have disabilities. Segregated workshops effectively say, “You are not as good. You are lower. You cannot speak to us or act like us, so you should not be around us.” Just don’t do it.
Jobs for PWDs should be positive. Every employee needs to know what he or she is good at, doing right, and capable of. Every employee needs opportunities for advancement. PWDs are no different. Give them real praise and don’t stick them in holding patterns. Remember their names. Speak to them as people, not “special angels,” even if they call themselves that.
Jobs for PWDs should encourage interdependence and independence. I recognize that many programs utilize job coaches because that’s the way “the system” works. But I don’t agree with it. Why? Because if job coaches were really needed 24-7, wouldn’t we all have them, disability or not? But we don’t. We have mentors. We have coworkers. We work independently and interdependently. Why can’t PWDs do that, too?
The workforce is, or at least should be, a big part of every adult’s life. PWDs are no exception. We need to start listening to what they want to do, letting them do it, and giving them real money.