I wrote part of this imagining that I was giving a speech. It eventually deteriorated into a plain old rant, but it was still fun.
I want to take you on an imaginary journey. It might sound a bit like an adult's version of the old children's book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. As we go on this journey, I want you to take the little editors in your mind that govern your emotional reactions off. I want you to take them off because when someone has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, it's normal to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad reaction--and I want you to experience that reaction completely. So if you feel like laughing, it's ok to laugh. And if you feel like sighing or banging your fist on the arm of your chair, that's ok. If you feel like making a remark, that's ok. If you feel like crying, that's ok, too ... because even grown-ups cry when they have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (and especially if they watch one in a movie!) The one thing I ask you not to do is walk out ... because the person in the story doesn't have the option of walking out. After all, all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days do come to an end.
I walked into the office for my third job interview of the month, excited to have found a job that was right in my area of interest and would allow me to use the knowledge and skills I had gained through my Bachelor's degree and years of volunteer work. As I was arranging my nice new skirt in my chair the interviewer said, "I need to let you know that we aren't going to hire you."
It's amazing how many thoughts one can think in just a couple of seconds. But I'm so qualified I could do this job in my sleep! Did you even look at my resume? Don't frown. Maybe they already hired someone. Don't look mad. Smile. I came all the way out here for nothing. Smile.
"Is there a problem with my resume?" I ask, feigning innocence. I know there isn't--I looked over the job description and qualifications 15 times before submitting my application!
"No. This job requires a driver's license. It says that on the description."
Smile. Don't frown. Whatever you do, don't yell, and especially don't cry.
"Driver's license... What type of driving is involved?"
"You would have to drive clients to social functions."
Smile. There are laws against discrimination. Surely there is a way around this. You're qualified for this job. There are six to eight clients in this group home. Surely they have two staff people. They wouldn't leave just one person with all those disabled people. There's too much risk of abuse with no witness. And that other agency said they sometimes hired nondrivers... Don't frown, don't cry, and don't yell.
"How many staff are on duty at each shift?"
"Sometimes you would be the only one."
Now what? I already know that the idea of herding a group of disabled clients onto a bus or the paratransit system would not go over well. I guess it's time to exit gracefully--and so much for the ADA. I'm qualified for the job, but I will never get it because I could be the only staff person present so I would have to be able to drive. Keep smiling. Don't blink, don't frown, don't cry...
"Would you like to continue the interview anyway?"
What? Yes, I'd really like to improve my intrrogation skills, and you're just the person to help me do it! Why would I waste my time and yours? I thought I was coming here to apply for a job! What kind of question is that? I throw the question back at the interviewer. "Is there a chance that I would be hired?" Score! One point for thinking on my feet. I didn't frown. I didn't blink. I didn't yell.
"No. Thanks for your time." I gather up my purse and laptop and issue the "forward" command to my dog guide, making sure not to clench my teeth, yell, or exaggerate my movements. Meeting my friend in the lobby, I still didn't frown, yell, or cry.
This event happened two years ago. It's almost like an event that happened ten years ago. It's almost like an event that happened six years ago. It's almost like an event that happened yesterday. Each of these other events has its differences; but they all have a few things in common. I was supposed to keep smiling. I was supposed to keep myself composed, be gracious and polite no matter how rude the "professional" was to me. And I was supposed to keep believing that someday I would find a job. God has a job out there for me somewhere... Where? How shall I soothe myself, especially when some of these potential employers, these people who look upon me not as a person with skill and intelligence who can contribute to the quality of service the company provides but as a poor, pathetic person who thinks she can work but who really needs to learn to accept her role as someone to be cared for, are fellow members of the body of Christ?
The body of Christ... Not a group of souls caring for some useless objects but a group of souls who should be empowering the weaker parts to do all they can and then picking up where they can't! But instead they are just throwing me away because there is one small part of the job that I can't do--and sometimes not even that! Sometimes they're throwing me away because there's one small part of the job that they think I can't do, like using a computer. "You have to read to be able to do this job!" an employer shouted to me at the top of her lungs in 1995 when I was still 50 feet from the building. She didn't want to hear about programs that provided speech or braille output. All she cared about was the fact that I couldn't see the computer screen.
And sometimes they throw me away because they think I can't even perform basic life functions, let alone perform the job. "Will you be all right living so far away from your mother?" the interviewer asked in 1999 upon learning that I would have to relocate for the position. Smile. Don't cry. Don't yell. BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK? WOULD I APPLY IF I NEEDED MY MOMMY TO HOLD MY HAND ALL THE TIME? DID YOU ASK THE LAST APPLICANT THAT QUESTION??? She didn't even submit my resume to the board for consideration. When I found out about it and delivered it myself, the board members challenged her. She informed them that I would need to be guided around the building and therefore would be unsuitable for the job--this in spite of the fact that we had had a lengthy discussion about how I go about accessing rehabilitation services to gain orientation to a new area! Even fully prepared, nicely dressed, and extra qualified, I was considered incompetent and unfit for work. The person hired had no related job experience and was eventually fired due to excessive absenteeism.
The body of Christ... I thought it was a safe haven, like the Americans with Disabilities Act. I thought that I would be lifted up there, empowered, treated with honor. Not a false honor: look what she has done in spite of her disability. But real honor: look who she is and what she contributes. But I feel cast aside there just as I am in the community at large. Why do I continue to try? And how do I keep smiling? I continue to try because there is only one alternative, and it is unacceptable to me. I continue to try because even if the body of Christ isn't working like it's meant to, that doesn't make Christ wrong. I keep smiling by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit living in me--and sometimes it's ok to frown ... cry .. and yell. Sometimes it's even ok to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Sometimes it's ok to file employment discrimination law suits. There is a difference between vengeance and seeking damages.
Why would I want to file a complaint with the EEOC? I asked myself this question in the wake of yesterday's event because the little voice in my head kept telling me that I should just let it go, that I wouldn't want to work for that company anyway, that God has something better for me, that vengeance is God's, etc. Bt yesterday's event is different. Yesterday's event involves a recruiter contacting me again after the company first denied me a position in October, 2003, because of the severity of my disability. The job was one that I could have done with no trouble, but the company had not made an effort to make the job accessible. It's a long story, and I won't share the details at this point since I do plan to file the complaint. The recruiter contacted me to tell me that they had a new position, and I hoped this meant that things had changed. The company is a company that supposedly specializes in jobs for people with disabilities. They had a record of my previous contact, which showed who my rehabilitation counselor was at the time. The interviewer asked if I was still working with the counselor. Of course, I'm not--I've moved. I expected the interview to go on, in which case I would ask some questions based on having looked at the job descriptions on the company's web site.
Up front, a statement was read to me regarding the fact that screen reader users would not be considered for the position! What blatant discrimination!
I called the rehabilitation agency I had been working with in 2003. It happens that the counselor mentioned stopped working for the agency while I was a client. My file was still available even though my case has been closed, and I was able to determine that there is a reference in the file to the fact that I was denied a position with the company due to the severity of my disability in October, 2003. This means that I have now been discriminated against twice. I let it go the first time because I was too shocked and upset to do anything about it. I won't let it go now. The company has been contacted by many other blind people because their ad was posted on the email list sponsored by the American Council of the Blind, among other places. Blind people jump at home-based employment opportunities because of transportation difficulties. So I'm not letting this one slip out of my fingers, and I'm not going to be afraid to seek damages, including the hotly debated "emotional damages." Living in poverty for so long hurts. Spending hundreds of dollars in cab fare to go to two or three interviews hurts, especially when I don't have any money coming in. I think that in May, 2003, I spent $150 just to go to three interviews in St. Petersburg and Clearwater! I wouldn't have spent that much just getting to three interviews if I had a car. I might have spent that much in gas for the month, but I would have gone a lot of other places with that gas as well. I don't know any sighted people who are still looking for a job after seven years, and I suspect that if I did they would be dead sighted people because they probably wouldn't be willing to be as patient and gracious as most of the blind people I know. It's awfully easy for a person who doesn't have to walk in our shoes to tell us not to get a chip on our shoulders. I'm trying very hard--and no one hates that proverbial chip more than I do. But the anger and hurt aren't so easy to avoid.