Things are going to get real today, dear reader. First, because I’m going to talk about being unemployed, and second, because I actually, shockingly, did a tiny bit of (albeit Google) research for this blog entry. So I’ll be slinging some figures, and not just braindumping in my usual manner.
I just finished working for a year at a nonprofit organization. Before that, I had been unemployed for three years, besides a two-month summer teaching job in 2012. During those three years, I consistently looked for work. I had consistent interviews. At first, it was exciting and I nerdily took to the task: taking copious notes on my answers for the most difficult questions, asking for detailed feedback when I was not the one chosen for a job, etc. I did learn a lot. But it soon became a vicious circle of application, interrogation, and rejection, and my energy flagged rapidly. I still did all I could think to do, but it was exhausting, frustrating, and discouraging.
I know well the hell that the job market has been over the last few years. Graduating from college and into a recession has deeply impacted many people of my generation. However, I’m also a realist, and know that in the eyes of most employers, hiring me is not the easy choice. Given the choice between a sighted employee who would require no accommodations, no matter how reasonable, or a blind employee who is just as qualified but may require things done a bit differently than the workplace has ALWAYS done them, the employer will, almost inevitably it seems, pick the former. Because it’s easy. Because it requires fewer resources and brain cells. And because people are afraid of change and of difference, easy is what, by and large, they choose.
I’ve gotten some push back for these assertions over the years, but I stand by them. I’ve had too many interviews to not see a pattern. I’m the one who hears the hesitation when I tell someone who’s called me for an interview that I’m blind. It’s always amusing to me to do phone interviews and then, if they want me for an in-person interview, to disclose that I am blind and to catch the surprise in their voice. Because somewhere deep down, the best, most open-minded people are still subconsciously surprised that they just had a meaningful, relevant conversation with a person who happens to have a disability.
If my empirical evidence isn’t convincing, here’s a figure that you’ve probably heard me spout if you’ve been unfortunate enough to get my full rantage on this subject: according to the American Federation for the Blind, the unemployment rate among blind people was 75% in 2010. More hopefully, in 2012 the National Federation of the Blind conducted a survey wherein the employment rate among the participants was 37%. Of course, we have to take into account several factors, such as how many blind people are unemployed and actually looking for work, versus how many have given up looking; what the term “blind” actually means in different contexts; and an individual’s circumstances, such as socioeconomic status and access to resources. But the 75% statistic is one that I’ve heard bantered over most of my job-seeking life, and have reason to think is, unfortunately, stubbornly immobile.
Now, finally, I come to the purpose of this post: I’m unemployed, and it’s probably going to take me longer than the average person to find work. My last dance with unemployment was stressful financially, but also socially. Many things that my friends wanted to do were beyond my means, and I spent a lot of time feeling anxious and guilty. I declined several invitations to go out for dinner or drinks, because those things add up, not to mention more expensive excursions. I receive $660 in disability payments per month. I am extremely fortunate that my parents pay my rent. Once I pay all my other bills and buy groceries, I have about $150 a month leftover. That will go to things like household necessities, food or other necessities for Kiva, etc. In that chunk, there may be funds for friend time, but it’s hard to tell at the beginning of the month what will come up.
What the hell can you do with me then, you ask? Well, I can cook you dinner, or we can cook something together. You can show me your favorite movie of all time, because chances are I’ve never seen it because movie watching is something I don’t do on my own. We can walk around the lake or a park or just on the boring old sidewalk. Oh I know! We can build a fort, like all those “10 romantic things to do with your significant other” blogs tell you to do. (Don’t worry, we don’t have to make out in it if you don’t want to.)
All kidding aside, this is where I’m at currently. If I can’t do money-requiring things with you for a while, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because I’m the 75, and I’m working to turn that around.