According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.9 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2020, falling from 19.3 percent in 2019. With October being Disability Employment Awareness Month, examining workplace discrimination against disabled people — especially those in the LGBTQ community — and how it can be improved is as important as ever.
In an interview with Georgia Voice, Executive Director of disABILITY LINK Kim Gibson said COVID-19 is a primary reason why employment discrimination hit people with disabilities particularly hard recently.
“People with disabilities were already disproportionately affected by employment discrimination prior to COVID-19, with people also in the LGBTQ community experiencing further discrimination,” Gibson said. “With COVID-19 and disabled people being at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and maybe costing companies more money through support and the assumption they will not be able to work — all of that has had a major impact for people with disabilities, and being LGBTQ has also intensified that.”
Nina Colman, the Disability Rights, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Independent Living Specialist at disABILITY LINK, shared that the conflict of visibility also plays a major role when it comes to employment discrimination against LGBTQ and disabled people, as many fear disclosing their disability may impact their ability to get a job.
“More LGBTQ people have disabilities than the general population, and both disability and queerness can be visible or invisible and carry different types of stigmas,” Colman said. “One thing that’s hard for anyone with a disability is asking ‘do I disclose?’ Over 78 percent of people do not disclose.”
This fear of being rejected becomes more pervasive when being LGBTQ with disabilities.
“The same things that are hard for people with disabilities are doubly difficult for queer people with disabilities because of the double stigma or the double invisibility—not being able to share an important part of yourself because the world is changing not fast enough,” Colman said.
To fight against employment discrimination, organizations like disABILITY LINK empower people with disabilities by providing them with skills and information to help live their best lives.
“DisABILITY LINK is run for and by people with disabilities,” Gibson said. “Our primary goal is to provide core services, which includes training people to advocate for themselves and peer groups.”
She emphasized that this training goes beyond independent living.
“Sometimes people think of training as teaching people how to dress, but that’s not what it’s about,” Gibson continued. “It’s about helping people to reach their own goals while living independently, whether it’s looking for a job or becoming more social in another organization or starting a workout plan.”
DisABILITY LINK also provides information to people with disabilities to help them find other organizations and communities specialized to an individual’s wants and needs. “A lot of our programs serve as starters to help individuals find the communities of their choice,” Gibson said. “So, somebody may start at our wellness gym, and then we will help them find something affordable in their own community.”
DisABILITY LINK helps create some of these specialized communities in the form of peer groups. Recently, they formed the LGBTQAIP+++ peer group for LGBTQ people with disabilities to share their experiences and support one another.
Gibson emphasized the importance of recognizing the intersection between disability and LGBTQ+ for organizations like disABILITY LINK.
“Every part of a person’s being is important,” she said. “Not one part is separated. Many corporations may think they have a diverse population, but you can be as diverse as you want without being inclusive. So, for us, it’s important to include the whole body and the whole person. If we fail to identify the different connections between people, we are failing to do our job as civil rights and social justice leaders.”
To volunteer or find support at disABILITY LINK during Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit DisabilityLink.org.