Access to Employment Means More Than Getting a Job

by Cara Liebowitz

Two years ago, I had almost given up hope that I would ever work a steady job.  I was living on Long Island, in a suburb of New York City, just a short train ride away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan: land of opportunity, jobs, and some of the best pizza on the East Coast.  For anyone else, it would have been an ideal commuting situation—take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to Penn Station, then subway or cab to your destination.  Easy, right?

Not so much for me. As someone who uses a variety of mobility aids to get around, including a power scooter or wheelchair, the prospect of getting a job in the city was daunting, to say the least.  While the LIRR station near my house was, thankfully, equipped with a ramp, and getting on the train is fairly easy, provided you can flag down a conductor with a bridge plate or feel confident that your wheels aren’t going to get stuck in the gap, it was the second part of my journey that would have posed problems. Less than ¼ of NYC subway stations have elevators, and though there’s been some progress around wheelchair accessible cabs and Ubers in NYC the last few years, it’s still difficult to just hop into a cab outside of Penn Station if you’re a wheelchair user.  And what if I got a job in the city and wanted to move there?  Finding affordable housing in NYC is hard enough.  Finding affordable, accessible housing in NYC that was also near accessible public transportation seemed like an impossibility.  The whole process seemed dim and daunting.

I had interned in Washington, DC the summer before and found, to my surprise, that I loved it.  Unlike the NYC subway, 100% of DC’s Metro system is equipped with elevators. Keeping my options open, I was applying to jobs in DC and NYC.  Nevertheless, it was a shock

when I got a phone call one November day offering me the Development Coordinator job at the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) in Washington, DC.  And so, just after New Year’s, I did what I thought I’d never do: I packed up all my stuff and moved three states away, to Maryland just outside of DC.

Now, almost two years later, I get up every morning and roll in my wheelchair to the Metro station a few blocks away.  I get on the train, ride to the Metro station closest to work (transferring trains in the process), and get off the train, rolling a few blocks to work.  If the weather is bad or my destination is too far from a Metro station, I book an accessible cab or Uber through the Uber app.  I do all of that on my own, without waiting for anyone to help me.  Accessible public transportation is what allows me to have a job.  My job allows me to live in my own apartment and support myself.  Working is not easy, but I feel extraordinarily lucky that I was able to move to a place where the environmental barriers to work, for me, were removed, or at least lowered.  How many more people with disabilities could be working if we had accessible public transportation all over the country?

This National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I want people to realize that hiring more people with disabilities is only one part of the solution.  In order to make equal employment for people a reality, we must consider ALL the barriers that stand in the way of employment.  Only then will people with disabilities have equal access to work.


Cara Liebowitz became a part of the RAISE Advisory Partnership as a self-advocate in 2015. She currently works as the Development Coordinator for the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), managing NCIL’s fundraising, grant writing, and corporate partnerships. Her writing has been featured in a variety of online and in print publications, including Teaching Tolerance, Everyday Feminism, and the recently released Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue of Uncanny Magazine. She has presented at dozens of conferences and events, including a 2016 White House event, on topics of disability, education, and media. Cara is active with DC Metro ADAPT and has been arrested twice defending disability rights. In her increasingly limited spare time, Cara reads, knits, watches Star Trek, and cuddles with her cat.

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