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Equal Access Issues: Ableism

Earlier today, I had my first request on a topic to discuss on this blog, which is in the subject line of today's post. Namely, what is Equal Access, and what are some of the issues regarding it as it pertains to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? This is a pretty broad topic, so depending on how much time I have today, I might have to cover this over multiple posts.

So, first of all, what is "Equal Access"? One of the major objectives of the ADA is to provide equal access to all benefits and privileges of employment that are available to similarly situated employees with disabilities. This was taken directly from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) website. Simply put, equal access is analogous to equal opportunity or, as some people put it, equity. As one may imagine, individuals with disabilities have to overcome invisible barriers which make it difficult for these barriers. This is typically in the form of discrimination. However, what may be abundantly clear as discrimination to the offended person, may pass off as part of the "culture" or the "status quo" in today's society. People refuse to take you seriously, because they think you're overexaggerating or they simply refuse to believe in such a forward thinking society that discrimination exists. I can assure you it most certainly does.

We're not talking about discrimination in the form of overt racism, sexism, or other forms of bigotry that are universally despised in today's culture. We're talking about much more subtle, gray-area discrimination which opens up a slippery slope into inequity. For example, as a person that deals with depression, one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome every day is "the boy who cried wolf" syndrome. I am a "Debbie Downer", so basically everything that I say is taken with a grain of salt. No matter how legitimate my issues are, or no matter how bad something makes me feel, people just conclude that this is part of who I am, and that I am a difficult person to deal with. People quickly get annoyed and agitated with me, an d they'll constantly give me useless advice such as "drink more tea", or "you need to be more positive and enthusiastic".

Sorry we can't promote you. You're just... not the guy we're looking for.

These are the kind of subtle types of discrimination I am trying to tell you about. Mental Health stigma is prevalent in today's society, and part of the reason why that is the case is because a handicapped person in leadership/management goes against the status quo. We need a stereotypical middle aged white man that was the former captain of the high school football team leading the company. We don't want unstable Negative Nancy or PTSD GI Joe taking the reins of the company. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? What about the company image? We're [insert company's name here], gosh dangit! We're not the island of misfit toys! That's what people are going to think of us if we let the crippled guy run the company.

Of course, no one wants to be overt with this sort of thing. It will make them look bad. Nevertheless, the problem remains that this kind of discrimination continues on a daily basis, and this is part of the culture that we have to deal with. It's ironic that we are using the ADA to help make the company equally accessible to us, but at the same time, it paints a huge target all over us. Once people find out that we're different - that we have a disability, people automatically assume that we're not as valuable an asset to the company. We have to work 10, 20, 30 times harder than the average able-bodied Joe Schmuckatelli, simply because we don't conform with societal norms. This kind of discrimination is what we call "ableism", and it is very difficult to argue or contest, especially when everyone looks at you like you're Chicken Little, freaking out over an acorn hitting you in the head. You overreact over nothing. Just calm down and drink more tea. If you were just normal like everyone else, you wouldn't be struggling with work so bad.

How do we combat something like this? This is why you have to log all of these conversations. If you haven't taken the opportunity to review my Notetaking 101 lessons, I highly recommend you go back and look over them. This kind of discrimination is what you should be taking notes on, and reporting either to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the OFCCP.

And with that, I think I'll close on today's post. I feel like there is plenty more to talk about regarding this topic, so stay tuned until next time. This is going to be a fun little miniseries!

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