By Michelle Steiner
When people think of diversity, many think of individuals who may have a different race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. All of these groups are underrepresented and need to be included in society. Another important part of diversity is individuals with disabilities. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion people with disabilities worldwide (The World Health Organization). Despite the prevalence of people with them, many don’t include them in diversity. Often people with disabilities are not included or thought of in the diversity.
There was a time when people with disabilities were placed in institutions. Even after legislation was passed, many of them couldn’t access the community until the passing of The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA mandated that places in the community be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Despite the many laws, many times, the needs of people with disabilities go unmet, and their voices are silenced by those who think that they know what is best for them.
A few of the greatest needs of people with disabilities are safe accessible housing, transportation, and employment. Many people who have visible disabilities are denied housing based on their disability. Other times the discrimination can be subtle such as not having a bus service in a community that prevents people with disabilities who can’t drive from accessing their community independently.
I’m not able to drive because of my disability. I’m able to get rides from other people, and I’m able to walk to where I need to go. I knew that by not driving, living in a rural area wouldn’t be an ideal situation for me. People can’t see my Learning Disability, so I was never denied housing, but I found it difficult to locate accessible housing in a central location before we bought our own home.
Finding long-term employment with an understanding employer was also difficult. Many workplaces didn’t understand my disability and the type of accommodations needed to perform on the job. I can also remember people who couldn’t understand why I didn’t learn the job quickly and be able to pick up on unspoken rules. I also struggled with employers who didn’t understand that my hand dexterity made my handwriting not legible. I also experienced difficulty with employers who didn’t understand why my visual perception created difficulty lining up staples or punching out holes in documents. Anything math related was Herculean as well. Thankfully I have found an employer who understands my needs.
People with disabilities are an important part of diversity. Including them helps to have a richer community with compassion and understanding for those who may learn, walk or do other things differently. Despite having differences providing services from them is out of the ordinary; it’s the law. As a person with a disability, I am an important part of diversity.
Michelle Steiner lives with an invisible disability. She has articles published on The Mighty, Non-Verbal Learning Project, Dyscalculia Blog, The Reluctant Spoonie, Kalopina Collective, Imagine the World as one Magazine, Word Gathering, and her blog called Michelle’s Mission. Her photographs have been featured in Word Gathering and Independent and Work Ready. She works as a paraeducator in a school with students with disabilities. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two cats.