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Economics of Disability

Navigating the job market as an American with a disability

Eliza Mills Jun 22, 2018
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This page is a part of our special on the economics of disability. You can listen to the podcast here, check out a full transcript of the episode and read this glossary of terms we used in our coverage throughout the show.


The tight labor market opens up unique circumstances for individuals who frequently have higher rates of unemployment – such as people with disabilities, whose unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in 2017. In comparison, according to the labor department, the unemployment rate for people without a disability was 4.2 percent in 2017.

These rates however, are even higher for women and people of color with disabilities.  

Tyson Pope graduated with his BA in history in December 2017.

I’m dyslexic, dysgraphic and have attention deficit disorder. K-12 I was put in special day classes. Those classes were like five to 10 students  students from across the spectrum of developmental disabilities. I was put in those classes throughout middle school and then throughout high school, and I was never really prepared for  community college or anything like that. I didn’t apply to any universities when I graduated high school  I was just happy to graduate. I started working at Walgreens and I enrolled in Riverside Community College in Southern California and I started taking one class at a time, because I wasn’t too sure if college was even for me.

I learned how to learn with my disability. I graduated with my associate’s degree in 2008 with distinction. But I found out that I couldn’t really get a job with an associate’s degree. I applied to the UC system and I got into UC Berkeley. It was a little bit challenging at first, getting my accommodations.  I graduated with honors from Berkeley. 

So that brings me to now, and I’m currently looking for a job, and it’s very hard. It’s not very easy for people with disabilities like me to navigate the system.There’s no one you can talk to. That’s where I’m running into roadblocks and frustration with the job search.

You think when you graduate a school like Berkeley, you fill out applications, submit your resume, a kind of a job would get handled. Right now I’m a substitute teacher for Prince William County school district. Right now it’s summer school, so there’s no opportunities for me to pick up assignments. So right now, I’m currently unemployed. I’m just like waiting you know, I’m currently looking for jobs.

And it does ask you “are you an American with a disability?”

I do check “yes,” but it doesn’t, for example, it doesn’t give me an option to explain it — like what kind of disability I have. It’s frustrating too,  because we hear this current administration  say that the unemployment for African-Americans is at a record low but, you know it’s — I don’t know what kind of jobs they’re looking at, because I’m unemployed or underemployed and I’m an African-American male and that statement isn’t really true for me.

I know that I’m fortunate enough to have a family that supports me: both my siblings are attorneys. So you know I’m financially being supported by them, but you know, I’m 35 years old and it’s embarrassing. I’m getting embarrassed for myself because I’m not employed, but I’m going to keep on fighting.  I know it’s like the story of my life  things take a little bit longer for me. And this is just another situation where it’s just going to take a little bit longer but I know eventually someone will come across my resume and they’ll believe in me as much as I believe in myself. 

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