Why You Don’t See Wheelchair Users in the Workplace

Published: Dec 01, 2023

I’ve been asked Why we don’t see wheelchair users in specific jobs. I wanna expand on that and talk about why we don’t see wheelchair users working in general.

As a wheelchair user (to be clear here I’m talking about full-time wheelchair users), there’s a massive list of things you cannot do:

  • Walk
  • Stand
  • Step over anything
  • Crouch
  • Climb
  • Operate any machinery with foot pedals
  • Keep Your hands clean enough to handle food or work in a sterile environment (your hands touch the wheels and the wheels touch the floor)
  • Carry an object with both hands and move at the same time
  • See over a standard counter top
  • Make yourself narrower to work in narrow spaces (i.e, turn and move sideways)

Given this list, what jobs are available to wheelchair users? I’m sure you can sit here and find "reasonable accommodations" or creative workarounds for some of these, but there’s one that’s impossible and it’s the one that blocks most forms of employment for wheelchair users: you can’t step over anything.

And I know this seems ridiculous, but really think about it. If someone spread a thin line of dog shit across a hallway and then lined up 10 non‐wheelchair users and 1 wheelchair user to go from one of end of the hall to the other, only one person is going to get shit all over them. Not being able to step over anything is a massive disadvantage in the workplace. Any obstacle - broken flooring, cables, or a spill make a space impassable to wheelchair users. Would you hire a forest worker who can’t step over a few fallen branches? When it comes to labor, the only reason companies hire anyone is because they haven’t found a robot who can do it better yet. Why would any company hire a worker who can only do part of the job?

What about office jobs? Surely a wheelchair user can handle a job that (notoriously) requires sitting all day? Yes! Wheelchair users are very well suited to traditional office work. But a lot of office jobs require some kind of degree in order for you to qualify; and a lot of colleges are notoriously inaccesible to wheelchair users, to say nothing of the cost.

Additionally, a lot of office jobs (still) require you to commute into a fucking office (despite years of proof showing that’s not needed). How does a wheelchair user get to this office? By car? What car? It’s not like they could just borrow friends car or get a cheap used one they can drive right off the lot. No, it has to be a special car, heavily modified so it can be driven with hand controls and large enough to hold a wheelchair. These modifications cost a lot of money. Money that one would usually get from a job. But without realiable transportation, a lot of places won’t even consider hiring you in the first place.

So now you’ve got a situation where, as a wheelchair user, you’re underqualified for even the most basic labor job; you can’t afford the education to get the skills needed to do a more accessible job; even if you can pay for the education, a lot of colleges and universities are physically inaccessible; and if you manage to snag a job where you can use your mind more than your body, you’re still denied affordable access to reliable transportation to get to the office.

Are there exceptions to all of these rules? Sure. I knew a paraplegic who worked at McDonald’s. I worked retail jobs in high school even though I could only stock the bottom 4 shelves. I myself have worked in tech and had a steady office job for 20 years. Just because you can find exceptions, doesn’t mean the system isn’t still shit.