Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to gather clients for my own virtual assistant business, and thus far, it hasn’t been going all that smoothly. This is especially disheartening as I’m on the self-employment track largely due to failing to succeed in the regular employment track.. The reason this is all so difficult–my disabilities.
This is not a post meant to elicit pity–rather, I hope it illustrates some of the difficulties those with disabilities find in employment, that may not be obvious to others.
The first thing I want to look at is accomodations. Looking back on a lot of my difficulties with employment in the past, I think a large part of it comes from how we handle accommodations in our society. While most employers now practice accommodating for people with disabilities, the practice is always “Tell us what you need, and we’ll accommodate you”. While this is certainly a step-up from the past, it doesn’t go quite far enough-instead, I feel we should be aiming for a society that goes out of its way to be a place where everyone is naturally accomodated, and diversity is celebrated. May be unachievable, but the effort should at least be made.
Another issue revolves around specific traits that are hard to foresee or predict. In my case, two of the biggest that haunt me continually are stress and executive functioning. In the case of stress, one of the most frustrating things is that my body has always been prone to experiencing the physical side-effects of stress–which largely takes the form of gastrointestinal distress. This is difficult to deal with as it will slow me down in the morning, limit my productivity during working hours, and it’s not something I can predict ahead of time. The second is almost even more insidious–and that is the classic autistic impairment in executive functioning. What makes this so insidious in my case is that I’m not quite as impaired as many others with autism are. A good 98% of the time I’ll do everything I need to do in the proper order and at reasonable speed–it’s the remaining 2% of the time that I’ll end up making a mistake and then beating myself up about it. The good news is that I tend to learn from my mistakes and don’t usually make the same one twice–the frustrating aspect is that I can’t predict when it happens and it tends to throw employers off as so much of the time I’m a good employee but then I make these seemingly elementary mistakes.
Finally, there’s the difficulty of honesty. In past jobs, when things have been difficult, employers have often asked if I can assure them I will shape up. The difficult thing about that is that I can’t, in all honesty, promise them that. I can promise I can do my best, but I can’t promise that my best will be good enough for their needs. As you might imagine, this is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back as it were, and employers don’t really like hearing such a response.
All in all, there’s a lot of interconnecting difficulties that make working with disabilities a real challenge. I am sympathetic to the employers of course–it probably frustrates me more than them, as they can wash their hands of me and seek easier to deal with employees–I, on the other hand, am stuck dealing with me, and with a string of jobs that I can’t exactly turn to as a reference in good conscience.
This is partly why I’m such a supporter of universal basic income. It’s incredibly difficult to present as “normal” in so many ways–to indeed, be quite bright and gifted in many areas–but to nonetheless be limited in what I can accomplish just because of how I’m wired, and how society is structured.
My hope is that one day, when we learn to embrace diversity in all its forms, such difficulties will not be insurmountable–but I also fear that such a day will not be coming anytime soon.