Monday, August 10, 2009

Good work if you can get it

Back in July, the Victoria Advocate, a newspaper out of Texas (that also has run at least one story about microwrestling) ran a story with the headline, “Victoria teenager with dwarfism, finds job at mall.” At first, the headline reminded me of the social stereotype facing all types of people with disabilities. Stereotypes that place such low expectations on people with disabilities that a routine activity for people without disabilities – securing a drivers license, riding the bus – becomes a significant accomplishment for someone with a disability. Most of us who are not financially independent need to find a job at some point in our lives, people with dwarfism included. Why then would a newspaper focus on a young woman with dwarfism finding a job.

Reading the article, I worked through my own sensitivities about media portrayal of disability and dwarfism to realize that finding a job was a big deal for Brittany Rios, not because of her dwarfism, but because of the general population’s lack of awareness around dwarfism. According to the story, Rios spent two years applying for jobs before finding work at a pretzel shop. Though the article reported, “[Rios] was never denied employment because of her dwarfism,” I wonder how many other teenagers spend two years searching before landing an entry level job. In other words, I would bet there were times when Rios was rejected for a job in favor of someone similarly, if not less, qualified, but who doesn’t have dwarfism. I’ll bet this is true because there are stories of other people with dwarfism who have spent long periods of time looking for work. My favorite story is that of Paul Miller, formerly of the Clinton Administration and now with the Obama Administration, who was rejected at scores of firms in favor of less qualified applicants when he was just out of law school. Far from a lawfirm, but similar in spirt, this story was posted on a listserve by a person of short stature in 2008,

In a mall with my kid sister a place was hiring. I asked for a form, they said they forgot to take the sign down. My sister went back and not only got the [application] but was hired on the spot. No, she didn't take the job.

In the case of the person who applied at the mall, he or she probably could have filed a discrimination complaint, but in many cases, proving discrimination is difficult. My hope is that the community of people with dwarfism and that Little People of America will make resources available and known so that in the future, people with dwarfism will be able to pursue employment with an awareness of their employment rights. And, my hope is that stories about people like Brittany Rios and other positive portrayals of people with disabilities will wield a positive machete in the employment search, opening up the minds of employers and clearing a path of success for other job seekers with disabilities.

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