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Unemployment during the pandemic rose more for people with disabilities

Posted at 7:40 PM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 20:28:16-04

LANSING, Mich. — The coronavirus pandemic made it hard for people to find jobs, but federal data shows that it was even harder for those with disabilities.

Chelsea Chamberlin

“Sometimes it would start with a phone interview and it would go really well, and you could tell they really took to me,” said Chelsea Chamberlin, who is legally blind and said she was unemployed for three years before landing her position as a disability employment rights advocate. “But, then when it would come time to meet me in person, they’ll see me walk in with a cane, and suddenly it was very different awkward vibe I guess.”

Chamberlin said she went through that experience numerous times while looking for a job.

“It was just discouraging because it’s a lot of work to just find a job,” Chamberlin said.

Federal data shows that between 2019 and 2020, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities jumped by more than 5 percentage points. It rose by more than 4 percentage points for those without a disability.

In all, 12.6 percent of those with disabilities were unemployed last year, as opposed to the 7.9 percent without a disability.

Mark McWilliams, Disability Rights Michigan

“Unemployment rate for people with disabilities have always been higher than the unemployment rate for people without disabilities,” said Mark McWilliams, with the Disability Rights Michigan.

McWilliams and Michelle Roberts both work with Disability Rights Michigan. They said the reason the disability unemployment rate is so high because a lot employers fail to provide resources targeted towards those who are disabled.

Michelle Roberts, Disability Rights Michigan

“When so many things nowadays are done electronically and online, you have to recognize that that leaves out a large member of our society,” Roberts said. “Not everyone has a computer, and not everyone can utilize and understand how to use that technology.”

And although Michigan law says it's illegal for an employer not to hire a person because of a disability, people like Chamberlin said discrimination is still present.

If you want to take advantage of resources through the Disability Rights Michigan.