Success in STEM
Jessica Erskine: A Personal Account
Unfortunately, even with all of the resources and opportunities that are in place to help people with disabilities find employment that fits their needs and skill set, unemployment is all too common in the disabled community.
Jessica Erskine worked in technology sectors in her teens and early twenties. In university, she studied a variety of subjects, most notably psychology. After becoming disabled and requiring the use of a wheelchair for much of her mobility, she went back to school to study computer networks at CDI (now Everest College). Despite becoming disabled after having been employed, and successfully retraining at a recognized institution, Jessica has found it next to impossible to find a relevant job in her field. She has found the level of accommodation for wheelchairs ranging from lacking to non-existent both at the college itself and at the workplaces at which she has applied. She has found employers whom she has approached regarding her accommodation to be more concerned about the liability of hiring a person who requires a wheelchair than the qualifications she brings to the table. No amount of job searching, networking, following up on potential leads, or self advocacy has opened any doors for Jessica, and going bankrupt at the beginning of 2009 has only caused her situation go from bad to worse.
Overall Jessica has found her experience as a person with a disability seeking a job in the technology sector to be frustrating and unrewarding. But rather than viewing Jessica’s story as a crushing blow of discouragement, we must view it as an opportunity to see how much work needs to be done. The situation won’t improve if dedicated professionals with disabilities, educators, and employers don’t collaborate more effectively to ensure available jobs are filled by the people who are best suited to them, rather than those who may be less qualified but who can fill the post with the least amount of effort on the part of the employer. Pressure must come from all sides to see that employment for people with disabilities improves as quickly and painlessly as possible. Jessica and many others like her need to receive support from the disabled and disability service community, encouragement from their families and peers, and compliance from employers who should not place convenience above equity.