A while back, I was reading honors profiles similar to these and feeling grossly inadequate. Not only was I not curing cancer or working for NASA, I was only about to have ONE degree with ONE minor specialty. At the time, this post had a different intention, as I was contemplating whether to pursue a double degree so I could work as a French interpreter/translator for the Department of State before I got that dream job as an international correspondent.
At the time, I didn't want to pay $150 for the placement exam. Now, ONE year later, here I am wishing I had $150 to contribute to my life goals. In retrospect, I probably spent it on too many sandwiches!
However, now, as I consider my options in a completely different field-- education, I am once again in a situation where the master's degree is considered the new bachelor's, it is even harder to realize your dream in a chosen field. Let's be real, I'm surprised that my major is not one of the 10 biggest wastes of time this year, according to Forbes, but if we were being honest, these descriptions are accurate.
In a field where you need relentless experience to get in the door, it may not be surprising that the unemployment rate for current journalism grads is listed at as much as 8.2%. My first thought is to wonder what form(s) of journalism count here. The good news, I guess, is that it is not by any means the worst ( sorry, psych majors!)
Add on top of that the fact that approximately 73% of working age people with disabilities are unemployed, according to an analysis of the 2012 American Communities Survey. I can only imagine what conclusions would be drawn with more recent statistics. This could be due to actual physical and attitudinal barriers to accessibility, but more likely it is due to disincentives to obtaining government health care, which may be the only option for individuals who need a lot of medical procedures and equipment, meaning tha many individuals with disabilities live in poverty. While some states now provide a solution to the Medicaid problem, this is by no means a universal standard. In addition, there are now three states that allow the development of ABLE accounts for non-residents. You can learn more about that on the official website.
But let's get back to me for a second! Get a degree, they said. It will be fiun, they said. Oh wait, just kidding! Get a master's, now THAT will be the ticket! The thing is, I know how completely fortunate I was last time around, and yet here I am thinking about having my foot in a completely different door, so to speak. This year off has been very challenging but very necessary. I look at it as a blessing, and through that, I have been able to pursue volunteer opportunities working with children in the spare time I have had, and I absolutely love it!
Now, if I had a dollar for every time somebody said I should teach children, I wouldn't need to sitting here writing this. At first, I didn't think I would have the patience, and most days, I still don't. But, what continues to scare me more is the variability of how well accommodations and models of “diversity” such as myself would be integrated into the teaching industry (or not!). Not to mention that as far as diversity goes, my wheelchair is probably the only thing I have going for me, but that's another post for another day.
I am sitting here thinking about how much it would really matter, because there is this lovely article that I read a couple years back. Yes, you read that right, almost 2/3 of those people with disabilities had to drop out, and I was almost one of them despite my hard work, and the immense amount of luck that had nothing to do with it. And I will still say that my experience was much better than most.
By and large, I had very positive inclusion experiences within the school system. There was some hesitation at first, but once I proved that I could mesh within the mainstream, it was more a problem of “how do we get her the assistance she needs?” Which is still a problem, because I'm still here. But now, there's no IEP, no 504, and barely an ADA to protect me, as most buildings are” historical” or “would require additional maintenance costs.” There is only a Fair Labor Standards Act, which I am still trying desperately to understand, and which, if you ask me, isn't very fair at all. How do you tell kids that it's okay for even the teacher to need a little help sometimes? And what on earth am I supposed to do if my wheelchair breaks down??
So yes, I know that my degree is and was supposed to be the ticket to my future. And yes, every second I know that I am still just steps (wheels?) away from being a statistic, another one who couldn't make it in the face of systemic ableism. Yes, I know I picked the worst combination possible. No, it shouldn't matter whether I check that little disclosure box on my job application, but yes, it does anyway, whether I like it or not. Yes, my disability is a source of perspective and enlightenment. No, I'm not just a liability.
Yes, I know I'm screwed. No, I'm not quitting!