I’ve never known life without the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
I was born with cerebral palsy five years after the ADA was passed, and to say I took the Act for granted is a massive understatement. It wasn’t until I started searching for jobs post-college that I realized just how many rights the ADA affords me — and the extent to which the Act can be violated.
I had long heard stories of people with cerebral palsy applying to job after job without so much as an interview, but I confidently pushed those doubts to the back of my mind as I began my own job search. I landed some work through a temp agency, but at my first temp assignment, the work quickly dried up when my supervisors realized I couldn’t properly use a letter opener — and I was sent home in tears.
I was soon able to find more temp work, but it was clear that my physical abilities and my mental health didn’t always allow me to reach the goals my supervisors had set out. I successfully completed several weeks at a university bookstore but was told I wasn’t applying barcode stickers quickly enough. At another temp job placement, I had a panic attack at work and was promptly dismissed on account of “being on my phone too much” — despite never having touched my phone outside of lunch breaks. I felt absolutely defeated — as if the ADA couldn’t protect me from the challenges of being disabled and mentally ill in the workplace.
That same year, I opened up about my life with cerebral palsy for the first time and became acquainted with many others who live with CP. As I joined online support groups for people with cerebral palsy, fellow members’ workplace woes constantly seemed to rise to the forefront. I observed as others answered questions about whether or
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