Opinionista Makgosi Letimile 24 January 2019

Smart, black and a woman – but my disability brings out the bigots

I spend so many nights agonising about being unemployed. Considering I’m a black, disabled and fairly smart woman I figured my ability to learn quickly and my fighting spirit would be admirable qualities, something that companies would actually go out of their way to try to work with. To say I am highly disappointed would be an understatement.

After yet another job rejection I felt very disappointed in myself, for raising my hopes high and for letting myself convince myself that I would get the job I wanted, with the money I wanted, and life would be happy ever after.

But it was not to be and inasmuch as I try to console myself, I have a hard time convincing myself that my physical disability has nothing to do with it.

I notice the look on people’s faces when I wheel into their space. I notice the mixture of concern and disturbance, almost like regret that I actually showed up and relief that they can legally say I wasn’t qualified but at least I got a chance to be interviewed. Then I sit through the million rehearsed questions and get promised feedback in a week or so.

And the feedback is always a regret. It’s never about my disability though because that would be illegal, but it’s one excuse or the other – a sudden change in company structure or sudden budget constraints, which would make sense, but company restructuring or budget constraints are not an overnight thing.

So I go back to the drawing board and ask myself what I did or said wrong, knowing full well that the reason I was not hired was because of bigotry.

Yes, bigotry. People with disabilities experience bigotry from assumed ill-health because of disability. Yet businesses will tout how they are accommodative of disabilities, encouraging people to be open about their trials with mental illness, which is classified as a disability. However, let me show up in my wheelchair, ready and able to a certain extent, and all of a sudden it’s one thing or the other.

I spend so much going to interviews, borrowing money and making promises of paying back after getting this one job I’m absolutely “sure” I will get, how can I not? I’ve spent days practising responses and reading up on the company. I could answer questions in my sleep and then I go through all these motions only to be told a story about this or that.

I could cry about discrimination but I can’t prove it and even if I could who would I report it to? Reporting it to the government is a waste of time and resources. Our government has been found to be in violation of its own rules quite a few times and instead of correcting their behaviour they would rather pay a hefty fine and not have people with disabilities as staff unless it’s to exploit them with projects that pay R3,000 a month, calling it an internship.

It upsets me because the very same government and companies will be falling all over themselves come disability month, talking about inclusivity, all things nice, giving millions towards CSIs. If only they would spend the money hiring and training people with disabilities which would make a practical and inclusive change. But why do this when you can pretend to care and forget about it as soon as you throw away your sticker and bandanna?

I spend so many nights agonising about being unemployed, considering I’m a black, disabled and fairly smart woman I figured my ability to learn quickly and my fighting spirit would be an admirable qualities, something that companies would actually go out of their way to try to work with; to say I am highly disappointed would be an understatement.

I average about two interviews a week. There was a week I literally had an interview every day and yet they all came to nothing.

Never mind the exhausting experience of going through all those companies researching and preparing for them, but the financial cost, especially as a disabled person who isn’t living in an accessible area, is great. I’ve gone to interviews where it’s so far out I have asked my Uber driver to wait for me to finish interviewing so I’m not stranded; of course, they wait for me, at a cost. So not only am I paying for the interview, I’m paying for the time spent at the interview, the longer it is, the more it costs.

I have a grant of R1,700 which is meant to buy me food and hygiene care, so where am I supposed to get the money for interviews? Or do I simply accept that my life is over as a working person and I should give up on working and hope that, eventually, death comes quickly?

Because at this rate the bigotry that society has against people with disabilities is going to make sure we starve to death in dingy corners. Then everybody will get to grandstand about how society needs to do better.

It’s time to give disabled people a chance to be positive, contributing members of society. DM

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