By Lance McLemore, PRC-Saltillo Blogger
When I think of the many challenges and frustrations I have to deal with, employment is probably at the top of my list. It is the source of so many other problems. Having a good well-paying job is connected to positive outcomes in so many areas of our lives: more access to better healthcare, education, mental well-being, relationship opportunities, etc. Overall, it gives us a better quality of life with more choices.
This is a subject which I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, and it’s probably the one which I’ve wanted to write about the most. Whether it’s right or wrong, so many people conflate what they do for a living with who they are. As a result, it can be a sensitive subject to discuss. At this point in my life, it seems to have the most serious, immediate, and direct impact on me. I know that I will probably feel embarrassment or shame because of some of the things I will write in this post, but this is a subject which is very important to talk about. The vast majority of adult AAC users are affected by it. At the time I write this, I’m 36 years old. In my entire adult life, I have never been above the poverty line. I’ve had to live in substandard housing in dangerous areas. I can’t afford to have my own residence. My car is 24 years old, and it has a problem which requires a repair that would cost more than the car is worth. Someday I want to get married, have a house, a car, take a trip every now and then, and all the other things that most people want. I don’t want to be dead weight for my future significant other. I often wonder, “who would want to marry a broke loser like me?” For so long I have felt stuck; I want to move on to the next phase of my life, but my progress has been totally stymied. I have missed out on innumerable opportunities and experiences because I didn’t have the money. I’m sure everyone has heard the aphorism, “money can’t buy happiness.” It might be true, but I’m sure most people would prefer to have it than not have it. It might not buy happiness, but it does buy choices and opportunities.
The unemployment rate for disabled people is shockingly high. Autistic people are unemployed at a rate of about 80%. Blind people are unemployed at a rate of about 90%. Only about 10% of AAC users work 10 hours a week or more. I found this study about employment for AAC users. The sample size is small, but I think it’s interesting. There are different barriers to employment: technology, finding open positions, interviews, poor education, lack of supports, and social barriers.
- Technology: Battery life, device size, and weight can pose problems. Many AAC users communicate slowly, which makes it difficult to fully express oneself. It can be difficult to jump from one communication function to another like giving a speech and taking questions on the fly.
- Find open positions: People often find jobs because someone in their network gives them a lead. AAC users often don’t have extensive social networks like this, so they are put at a disadvantage.
- Interviews: This is also where a lot of people get weeded out. Speed of communication is a problem here. And of course, people just assume that we can’t do the job because of the way we communicate.
- Poor education: Many AAC users receive poor educations. We are taught by people who know little to nothing about our communication systems, so they can’t really model for us.
- Lack of supports: this could include lack of transition supports, lack of access to vocational supports, lack of access to accommodations that would make work possible or easier, etc.
- Social barriers: Let’s be honest. People are most comfortable around other people who are like themselves. Having a severe speech impairment makes other people uncomfortable, so people shy away. This leads to AAC users getting pushed to the side.
I think what’s frustrating for most of us is that we want to contribute, and we know that we can, but a lot of the time it seems that nobody else can see that. Financial freedom brings with it more opportunities and choices, and that is certainly important. However, there’s more to it than that. People need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They need something to look forward to. Mere biological existence is not enough for a happy fulfilling life. Having a meaningful job is a part of having a happy fulfilling life, but so many of us are shut out of that. Too many of us sit at home collecting government benefits when we want to do more for ourselves. Earlier I complained quite a lot; I’m sure I could continue with a litany of assorted frustrations and indignities, and I assure you that they are legion. I feel it’s necessary to allow other people to get some understanding of the reality we deal with. I know many people are in worse situations than me. As always, the point of this blog is to increase understanding and not to illicit pity. I hate to end on such a sour note. I wish I had the answer. Perhaps I can inspire other people to get creative in helping to solve the problem.
Communicators In Action - aac, language, communiction, employment, disability, voc rehab