As a student body we are vibrant, weird and righteously indignant. Additionally, we are chronically dogged by questions of employment.
I want to find a job and be able to support myself as a contributing member of society. I want to be financially stable. I want to feel secure in my status as a bread-winning, bill-paying, tax-abiding twenty-something.
In addition to a paycheck, jobs give us an identity as individual contributors to a group objective. Employment is integration.
Over Easter weekend, I passionately justified myself (and my future employment) to a myriad of family members. I said, with unbridled conviction, “Yes, I will definitely be able to find a job after I graduate. Oh yes, cousin, history majors are highly sought after in this job market! Future of ‘chronic underemployment’— pish posh! Surely not!”
My family is supportive and their mild concerns about my job prospects centered around my choice of major — not my ability status.
But the fact is that unemployment is prevalent for persons with disabilities. For college graduates with disabilities, the employment rate is a measly 50.6 percent. On the other hand, 89.9 percent of college graduates without disabilities are employed.
This highly-concerning discrepancy all starts with the job interview. And the job interview starts with a handshake.
Mild-to-moderate issue: My handshake can feel like a public health hazard.
My hands have this incredible ability to sweat. Really — it’s like a perverse, dehydrating superpower. When I was 12, I remember wondering if I could I actually become dehydrated from the amount of water loss via palm. As a preventive measure, I downed four bottles of Aerohead Filtered Mountain Spring water in 60 minutes. Turns out — my hyperhidrosis didn’t actually pose a danger due to body water loss. I just urinated with alarming frequency and pressure. I was like a high-flow spigit.
The sweatiness, of course, is exasperated when I’m nervous. And, conveniently, I get incredibly anxious during job interviews, which makes for a clammy handshake.
The handshake follows an archetypal pattern: First, I grab my interviewer’s hand, smile reassuringly and hope for the best. Then, I see my interviewer’s jaw clench ever so slightly, and their eyebrows lift in surprise. Their eyes widen and their careful smile tightens as they realize that my hand is, in fact, very wet.
I’m sorry my hand is wet. I’m going to discreetly look away while you wipe your contaminated hand on your pants.
The awkwardness is why I have resorted to “sanitary fist bumps” with friends.
Maintaining an air of professionality in a job interview is something all college kids strive for. We have to look more put together than we actually are. In reality, we’re desperate for a job. We’re unemployed, remember? That’s why we’re awake for this job interview.
When I walked in for my job interview in my first year of college, the receptionist said she liked my outfit.
I looked down and checked the patent loafers for scuff markers. I didn’t want my shoes to look scuffed, so I walked over in a pair of sneakers. I changed right outside the door and the sneakers are in a backpack I plan to leave in the waiting room.
I wore loafers and not heels. Heels do not have orthopedic arch support. Heels are not cerebral palsy friendly. Instead, heels make your butt look nice.
After I signed in, I waited 25 minutes. The employer came out, shook my hand and led me into a conference room. The employer cringed at my handshake.
A first impression is very important — handshake and a professional outfit. I was offered a second interview for the position, but I wasn’t hired for the job. The employer gave the job to someone who wore heels. I know, because I noticed her outfit in the waiting room. And she told me about her new job later in a discussion section for an environmental science class.
I sometimes feel the need to overcompensate for my disabilities. I have an organically large personality, but sometimes I wonder if I have to go the extra mile. If I put in extra effort to engage in an interview, meticulously research the company beforehand and go over my resume with a fine-tooth comb — maybe I will be offered the job. I stretch before job interviews — to help even my gait and calm my body. I clean my glasses. I meditate, envisioning palms as dry as deserts. I paint my nails. I pack some allergy medication. I worry that my physicality precedes my skills.
In the United States, fitting a certain set of physical characteristics is often taken as competence. For minority identities, this can prove frustrating. Privilege was explained to me through a hiking scenario: Two folks are walking up a mountain. On one side of the mountain, there is a mudslide. Boulders and tree stumps clog the path to the top. The first hiker, of the nondominant group, must climb over the boulders and scale the tree stumps to get to the top of the mountain. On the other side of the mountain, there is a staircase.
The hiker of the dominant group, walks up the staircase, which guides the hiker over the tree stumps and over the boulders.
Both hikers worked to get to the top of the mountain. But the first hiker, of the nondominant group, had to work a whole lot harder.
This is privilege.
Ableism in the employment sector is prevalent. I argue that prejudice starts at first impressions. First impressions are often physical. And while first impressions are important, they are not everything. There is a whole, capable person behind a disability.
Let’s make the staircase to the peak of the mountain accessible to all.
Jasmine Leiser writes the Monday blog on ability and its intersection with the student experience. You can contact her at [email protected].