At 21 years old and holding my dual bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education, I was filled with enthusiasm for joining the job market. Although my potential employer seemed excited by my answers, I knew the interview was over when she asked, “Do you have enough stamina? Do you think children would respect you?”
I have a nonprogressive neuromuscular disorder, but the interviewer had once been my own principal and used to tell me, “Dori, you have more energy than any student I’ve ever met; you are going to go far.” What an unusual experience, to feel invisible to someone who always complimented your achievements.
Our primary barrier is the stigma that disability equals inability, and until that changes, companies will overlook top performers and problem-solvers with disabilities like me.
Eight months later, I finally met a principal who believed in equality. He often asked, “If students can’t see themselves in the adult role models around them, how do they know they can succeed?” Under his direction, I taught for 12 years and went on to receive my master’s in counseling.
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After relocating to South Carolina during a statewide teacher shortage, I was again asked about my stamina and energy. My performance at the second highest rated school district in the country and numerous recommendations were overlooked for stereotypes and labels.
After five years of interviews, I was hired at Able South Carolina, which promotes disability rights and independence. I have the right accommodations to support my high level of productivity. There is nothing I cannot do in the office or out in the community.
Roughly two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities are not working, even though the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates equal opportunity and supports to attain and maintain employment. People with disabilities want to work and are capable. Our primary barrier is the stigma that disability equals inability, and until that changes, companies will overlook top performers and problem-solvers with disabilities like me. Chances are your own workplace is missing out on quality employees.
I hope that you’ll join me and other employees or would-be employees with disabilities at the State House starting at 9:30 Wednesday morning as we seek to make South Carolina a better place to work.