Work and disability: what if we change perspective?

May Day: once again, this yera, talking about work and disability on Labor Day, emphasis was  placed on the, still unsatisfactory, employment situation, with a very large share of people with a disability of a productive age, and not unfit for work, who can’t insert themselves in a qualified professional context. The perspective this topic is faced is always the same: the existing disability recruitment law isn’t properly enforced; penalties are provided for businesses that don’t include a share of workers with a disability in their workforce, but this deterrent seems to be weak,  since- even more so in the current pandemic scenario- controls are substantially lacking.

Lavoro e disabilità

That’s true, that’s right. But don’t you think that, in this picture, the main characters are absent? There are institutions, there are businesses… but what about those directly involved, that is to say workers with a disability? Even when they are involved, it’s just to share their own “unsuccess stories”: “I’ve been waiting to get called for years, but nobody does it“. What if it was (part of) the problem? Let’s try to look at work and disability from a different perspective, where workers with a disability aren’t passive figurants anymore, waiting for someone (institutions, businesses, a private “good-hearted” citizen) reaching out and handing out a job, but active characters, who don’t just wait, but actively look for a job and do their best to get it! No, sending lots of applications, asking for a job “please, for pity’s sake, because I need it”, or sharing on social media plaintive posts isn’t the right way. On the contrary, most of the times, it can even turn out to be counterproductive (and that’s true for those without a disability, to be clear).

work and disability: the origin of the issue (and a potential solution)

Why businesses are often reluctant to hire people with a disability, even when they’re qualified? Why, even when they do it, most of the times they assign them to junior tasks, not always aligned with their skills, background and – for God sake!- without direct contact with the public? As a woman living with an evident disability, I often had to deal with bias, open doors as long as the company or the recruiter just saw my resume that got closed when they met me for an interview. Sometimes, I even got called for a responsibility role that, at the interview in presence, all of a sudden turned into a less qualified position. Why?

Team di lavoro

If it would have been the only constant in my experience, probably I’d come to the conclusion that my disability would have prevented me from getting a qualified job, aligned with my skils and ambitions. But it wasn’t the case. I’ve met many business representatives who looked at my professionalism, prior to my disability (and the potential issues linked to it). Just a matter of luck? Not at all. I think that, in your life,  you must build your own luck. That’s even more so when, using a sport metaphore, you play holding a ballast, as disability is. As my direct managers recently reminded to me, in their eyes, I made the difference, since my skills, my background, the quality of my work never let them think about my disability as a problem (or as the only, or main, reason to hire me).

No, I don’t want to present myself as a role model. I’m well aware that everyone has his/her own life and that, sometimes, experience influences our choices. But I’d wish that my personal experience could help someone to believe that, maybe, changing his/her attitude and introducing him/herself not focusing on the problem (his/her disability) , but on the solution (what he/she can do as a worker for the company he/she is applying for, in that specific position and generally speaking),  things can even get different.

I dont’ thik businesses are “bad” and inclined to discriminate those with a disability. Most of the times, they do it under the influence of a disability narrative focusing on impossibility, on limits, on sorrow, on welfarism. I strongly believe that this should be the starting point: without fall into the opposite mistake (exalting “heroism” of people with a disability), let’s try to start from direct accountability, to control our own fates: let’s make our faces and bodies seen, let’s make our voices heard, let’s ask others to talk and treat us as professionals (and always act like that, of course), not as “needy”people to help. We’ll still get doors slammed in our faces, we’ll still face disappointment, bitterness, the comments of some colleagues… But, as they say, revolutions take place one step at a time. Let’s start!