Let’s play a game. Look at the list of professions below and note the mental image that pops into your head for each word.
Doctor Fireman Nurse
Teacher Mechanic Police Officer
Mayor Computer repair person Librarian
My mental images are something like this:
Doctor – white, young, male Fireman – white, young, male
Nurse – white, young, female Teacher – white, young, female
Mechanic – white, young, male Police Officer – white, middle-aged, male
Mayor – white, middle-aged, male Librarian – white, middle-aged, female
Computer repair person- white, very young, male
Now, you may think that I’m trying to make a point about gender inequality or the lack of racial diversity in the world I see around me.
While those are issues that I definitely think we need to recognize and tackle, what I really want to draw attention to is simply that my list doesn’t include anyone with a visible disability. There are no wheelchairs in my mental neighbourhood!
This train of thought stems from a conversation I had on Twitter with a smart, funny friend who happens to be in a wheelchair. He’s looking for work, and is facing barriers because of his disability. He pointed out that employers market jobs to students, but rarely, if ever, reach out to people with disabilities who are also capable of doing the jobs.
Several people weighed in, and in the end the tweet that stood out for me is this: “We need to go beyond case-managing individuals, and look at broad culture shift. Onus needs to be on society.” The tweeter went on to cite Walgreens in the States as a company that recognizes people with disabilities as an asset, and actively seeks to employ them.
I look forward to a time when the people working in my neighbourhood–both physically, and in my mind’s eye–include people with visible disabilities.