We all know the struggle of wanting something and knowing you’re unlikely to get it. But when that extends to employment, and more specifically to the employment of disabled people, it goes beyond wanting the unlikely. It’s a matter of impatience for justice.
Recently, I received an email from a well-known disability rights organization inviting me to write a piece on COVID-19’s impact on the disability community. I love writing, and as I experience the decline of control many of us are feeling in the midst of this pandemic, I thought this would be a great way to make my voice heard in a world that is trying its hardest not to prioritize my voice at all. But when I responded to the organization to ask if they would provide a stipend for the authors they were asking to write, they replied that they weren’t offering anything more than social media promotion. How RUDE!
Not only was it rude, but it also highlights the exact problem that people with disabilities are facing, now more than ever. We are fighting to get our ideas heard, our people cared for; our basic needs to be supported; and yet, when asked to contribute, we are not recognized for adding value. A request for a deliverable that does not include compensation is a gift; a volunteer opportunity. It is recognized as effort, but not as value.
This situation is not specific to times of crises. Disabled people are regularly denied fair and equal compensation. For example, subminimum wage is still prevalent (and legal) in the US, feeding into the idea that people with disabilities can be paid less because their identity lessens the quality of their work and their life. Many people who rely on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs live below the poverty line, because there is a gap in support services where funding ends, translating to subpar living situations and unequal access. Systematic oppression trickles down to pool around our most vulnerable populations. Exploitation of people with disabilities for their work has been going on for as long as time itself and it is time to take back the credit, both literally and metaphorically.
So I am taking back the credit. It is time to draw a line in the sand about what equitable recognition looks like, and to take nothing less. It has always been crucial to pay disabled people for our work. And yet in a world where everyone is struggling–disabled people disproportionately so–we are still being denied having our basic needs met BY PEOPLE CLAIMING TO SUPPORT OUR OWN COMMUNITY. This has to stop now. If we cannot recognize and uplift our own value, who else will? But more importantly, if we cannot recognize each other’s work, we will continue sinking in the ongoing chaos without leverage to rise.
The organizations who are asking for unpaid contributions have the power to be a catalyst for change in this time. If you can set an example of how to treat your community, how to value your community, others will follow, and you will change the landscape for people with disabilities, not just during, but long after this pandemic.