By: Ericka Jones

Looking for a job when you have a disability can be a frustrating time. Though independent living centers were created for disabled people by disabled people, times have shifted in a direction that leaves many people in our community out of the Human Services field.Are we really living up to the phrase “Nothing About us Without us” if we are leaving behind the very people these jobs were created to raise up?

In 1962, Ed Roberts was admitted to the University of California in Berkeley, California. He had polio, was a quadriplegic and, because of this, spent his life living in an iron lung. After getting into the University of California, Ed found that the only housing that would hold him and his iron lung was Cowell Hospital (student health services on campus). Though he was the first, by 1966, twelve new disabled residents had joined him. After years of being in an oppressive environment, the residents worked for inclusion and ended up forming a program that would allow disabled students to be successful and independent. From this experience in advocacy, in 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disabled activists and led by Ed Roberts in Berkeley. Here disabled people were able to form their own attendant services program to fit their specific needs and gain access to services and supports catered to keeping them independent in the community.

Why was this history lesson important? Because if we remember the foundations of our past, we can form a successful future. Independent Living Centers (I.L.C.) were created to keep disabled people in charge of our own lives and our own services. They were meant to offer peer support and to be run and controlled by disabled people. So why is it that now in 2020, that independent living centers are NOT majority run by disabled people and they can be pretty difficult for disabled people to even get a job at an ILC because of ableist qualifications.

The next time you come across a job posting, look carefully at the description. Do you see requirements such as “good manual dexterity,” “ability to walk, sit, and stand for long periods of time,” “ability to lift up to 20 pounds,” or “own a vehicle,” even for jobs that shouldn’t require those skills? You might shrug it off and apply anyway. But now imagine you’re a job seeker with a disability—and you keep seeing these requirements in every job you’re interested in applying to.Pretty disappointing, right? This is an unfortunate reality for disabled Americans seeking employment every day. All of this happens before someone even comes in for an interview where a slew of ableist encounters could happen.

So, what can we do about this? Well, for starters, organizations Human Resources departments need to look at how they are writing job descriptions. More often than not, it’s typical to use a template job description and change it slightly to fit the needs of the organization. Does it really matter if an applicant doesn’t have a car if they do have access to reliable transportation to get to and from the office every day? If this is a concern, is this a position you could turn into a telework environment (many companies have been forced to look at this option because of COVID-19). Only need someone to lift heavy items once in a while? Mention that but then state that there can be accommodations made. Using your job posting to show that your work environment is inclusive and welcomes disabled people is a great step to changing this toxic and ableist habit in the future.