by Lateef McLeod
Work for me is something that I handle, but do not fully appreciate. There are many reasons why I say this. One reason is that I do not think my work is valued much in the wider social context. My written thoughts and experiences are sometimes so far away from the main stream that is often over looked. This reality makes me think of how much is my work really worth in today’s economy. Do I, and other people who use AAC to communicate, have the capability and the desire to be part of today’s workforce, which is being streamlined so employers are getting workers who are more productive but less costly? Is this the best option for us to aspire to?
The professional classes of people who use AAC are few and far between in today’s society. Besides a few notable exceptions like Dr. Bob Segelman, a sociologist, and Bob Williams, the Associate Commissioner for the Social Security Employment Program, most people with severe mobility and speech disabilities do not have the opportunity to pursue lucrative careers or even full time to part time work. My experience with the work force in light of this fact has been very fortunate in securing a blogging position at United Cerebral Palsy of the Golden Gate in Oakland, where I work part time. However, even with this steady income combined with my Master’s degree, I still only make roughly minimum wage a year. This means even with my education, the way this economy is set up, my production value is greatly decreased because of my disability.
In Sunny Taylor’s article, The Right Not to Work: Power and Disability, she points out that in today’s economy people with disabilities are worth more in the private industry in nursing home beds then out in the work force. Taylor argues that people with disabilities should have the right to determine the level of production they can contribute to society without being stigmatized for it. This philosophy directly challenges the mainstream view that a person gains status in their society from their occupation. Taylor is indirectly expressing that people with disabilities intrinsically have value in society whether they have a job or not. This revolutionary thought liberates people with disabilities from striving to validate themselves through the entrance of the regular workforce. It makes people with disabilities the masters of our own production who are able to define and determine exactly how we will contribute to our respective community.
To take control of your work productivity is a revolutionary idea for people with disabilities, and I think it is empowering for people like myself. Instead of conforming to the normative ideal of working a nine to five job until I eventually retire I am free to pursue more creative endeavors. My passion is to pursue a career as a poet and a novelist. This means that I have to frequent spoken word and other poetry events to get my name out there and to promote my recent published poetry book. As I develop as an artist I have to make sure that my other obligations do not distract me from my creative work. Time management really helps me in this endeavor and should be a focus for any person with disability who wants to be productive in reaching their goals.
I am not saying full employment is not a worthy goal for people with both a severe speech disability and mobility challenges. For those who want a traditional career, I encourage them to succeed in their goals. However, for those who would like to be creative with their productivity whether it is creative artwork or just being more engaged with their community, it is important work that should be valued at least with acknowledgment. For some people who communicate with AAC, just staying engaged with their surrounding community might be a full-time job in itself.
Editor’s Note: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD), and many members of the community take the day to blog about issues like those we cover here at DRN. To learn more or to find out who is participating afterwards, follow the link.