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From the Editor

Is your child or family member with a disability employed? While we celebrate increased awareness around this topic, we also want to support you, in a specific way, to help your loved one find a job. Please see the tips included in this issue. Many people lost jobs during the 2020 COVID pandemic, and many of those jobs did not come back. My son was one of those who lost his job. But we parents are resilient and persistent for our children, so the job search continued until he found another job. I remember when my son got his first job some years ago; it was great for me to finally hear him say, “Mom, it’s payday!”

“Observed each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. [The U.S. Department of Labor] Office of Disability Employment Policy has chosen "Advancing Access and Equity" as the theme for NDEAM 2023NDEAM en español.

This issue of Bridges features three disability advocates who shed light on Employment and Ableism. Imani Barbarin is a nationally-known disability rights and inclusion activist. Christina Eisenberg is Starbridge’s Director of Employment Equity. Lisa Bierre is Starbridge’s Senior Employment Counselor. 

Best to you and yours,

Maria Schaertel


Ableism, According to Imani Barbarin

Imani Barbarin, describes ableism as “structural, systemic, and interpersonal discrimination against people with disabilities.”

Imani believes that “our ideas about ourselves are not formed in a vacuum. They are influenced by preconceived notions about productivity, value, and what we ‘should’ do with our lives.” She says, “we have to undo our perceptions about who is valuable to society.”

Imani is also a communications professional, social media influencer, writer, and podcaster.

Save the date!

As luck would have it, on December 5, 2023, Starbridge is teaming up with WXXI & Golisano Foundation’s Move to Include™ to present a virtual event featuring Imani, who also goes by the username, Crutches and Spice. The webinar will include a Fireside Chat and a Panel Discussion including Imani and moderated by Jeiri Flores, a Rochester disability rights advocate.

Please check Starbridge’s website for further details, coming soon!

Christina Eisenberg Notes how Ableism Affects Employment

To me, the roots of ableism are stereotypes, assumptions, and a lack of disability awareness training. There needs to be more education around disability inclusion and open communication. 

Ableism can present itself throughout the employment lifecycle from recruitment through retention and advancement. Starting with non-essential functions of a given role being put into a job announcement, this can deter applicants with disabilities from applying.

Individuals with disabilities are often stifled when it comes to employment. Too often individuals with disabilities remain in entry level positions with little to no advancement opportunities or a “seat at the table.” In terms of finding employment, ableism has historically hindered advancement of individuals with disabilities in that appropriate access to opportunities is not always considered. Lack of accessible employer websites with representation of individuals with disabilities can be a barrier or discourage qualified individuals from applying for opportunities.

Ableist comments also are a part of an inaccessible culture/environment. As a wheelchair user, a common situation is not being able to access something and being told to just ask someone to get it for me. This takes the independence away from an individual that others would have who do not have the disability. Employees navigating a space freely without barriers or needing assistance should be the goal for every workplace.

Interview with Lisa Bierre on Employment and Ableism

1. How does ableism prevent people with disabilities from getting a job?

“Ableism” includes the belief that people without disabilities are better or more productive than people with disabilities; discriminating directly or indirectly based on someone’s disability. Companies may make assumptions of what people can or can’t do based on the disability, such as thinking that people with disabilities can only work as janitors or cart retrievers. Employers may be concerned about having to provide accommodations, or the potential cost of such accommodations. They may have fears that customers don’t want to deal with people with disabilities. They may have unfounded assumptions that people with disabilities have poor attendance or are more prone to injury on the job, (even though data shows just the opposite.) People with communication difficulties may find interviews a major obstacle; the interviewer may judge them based on their speaking skills, and not on their other abilities.

It is hard to prove discrimination in the hiring process; how do you prove that the reason someone wasn’t hired was because of their disability? 


2. Can you give an example of how ableism reveals itself in the workplace?

People with disabilities may be treated differently than their non-disabled coworkers. They may be given “easier” work because of lower expectations, not considered for cross-training to learn new tasks, or not be offered promotions or other opportunities to advance in the company. People with disabilities may be looked down upon by co-workers that think the people with disabilities are just there to do menial tasks; they may not be invited to participate in social activities that others are attending. Sometimes the physical lack of accessibility is overlooked; the employer considers it a “favor” that they hired someone with a disability, so doesn’t want to hear complaints that things need to be changed for the person to have full access.     


3. What are some of the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from advancing at work?

The bias of the “Medical Model” – that there is something “wrong” with people with disabilities that needs to be “fixed” to make them competitive with their peers. This can lead to low expectations, that people with disabilities can’t really do the same work as their coworkers; seeing only the disability, not the person: Thinking someone who uses a wheelchair couldn’t be a supervisor; how could someone who is deaf lead a team on a group project? Communication difficulties can be a huge barrier; others may think if they can’t communicate effectively, then they aren’t as intelligent or as capable as their peers. The “Social model” of disability suggests that the problem is not the person, but the societal barriers that limit accessibility. Identifying these barriers and finding accommodations to remove or reduce these barriers is a step toward inclusion.


4. How can non-disabled colleagues and friends be allies in the workplace and community?

It starts with our own attitudes of seeing people with disabilities as people first, as equals. Do we include people with disabilities in our social activities? Do we eat lunch with them in the cafeteria? When co-workers go out for a meal together, are the people with disabilities invited? If they are invited, are they included in the conversation?  Even simple things like supporting businesses that hire people with disabilities, avoiding using language that demeans people with disabilities. People should talk directly to a person with a disability, allow them to make their own decisions. Get to know people as people. As we embrace our differences, we serve as role models to others.

Statistics Supporting Disability in the Workplace

According to NDEAM, leading companies who employ people with disabilities, over four years, experienced the following advantages over their counterparts:

  • 28% higher revenues
  • Double the net income
  • 30% higher economic profit margins


Job Search Tips - Versión en español

Concerns about accommodations, disclosure, and inclusion are common no matter what the job market looks like.

1.   What should I look for in an employer?

  •  Accessibility
  • Company’s track record in leadership and diversity – check on websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn.


2.   Do I have to tell the employer about my disability?

  • Whether, when, and how to bring it up with an employer is up to you.
  • By law, you don’t have to disclose your disability
  • But many jobseekers do bring up their disability during the hiring process. One reason might be to ask for accommodations.


3.   What are some interview question ideas for first-time job seekers with disabilities?

  • How do you support employees with disabilities?
  • Do you track statistics on retention rates and career progression across various demographics? Which ones?
  • How do you compare to others in your industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion?


4.   What are some “red flags” that first-time job seekers should look out for?

  • Language being used during the interview
  • An employer who’s hesitant or unsure about providing an accommodation

For more tips, please see the full article, FAQ: How to get your first job — tips for people with disabilities


Additional Resources

Understanding Ableism and How it Impacts the Workplace

What is Ableism? | Confronting Ableism in the Workplace

Crutches and Spice

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