By: Justin Tapp, Guest Contributor and Abeer Sikder, Policy Analyst
In honor of Black History Month, The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) recently discussed intersectionality and disability employment with Justin Tapp, graduate student and disability leader.
Youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YADs) are a diverse community, in terms of not only disability type, but also race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. While Y&YADs face barriers to education, training and employment, those who have intersectional identities may face additional challenges. For example, the jobless rate for Black Americans with disabilities (15.1 percent) in 2021 was higher than the rates for other racial minority groups. Yet Black Y&YADs and other Y&YADs with overlapping identities can also leverage their unique perspectives, strengths and support systems to address these challenges and promote greater inclusion in the workforce, across multiple factors.
Justin Tapp, who was born with Klippel-Feil syndrome and scoliosis, is an individual doing just that. Justin identifies as African American, LGBTQ+ and disabled. He earned a bachelor’s degree in disability studies and political science from the University of Toledo and is currently working toward a master’s degree in science in social administration from Case Western Reserve University. Previously, Justin was a 2019 Policy Fellow at RespectAbility and worked as a Learning Disability Specialist in higher education before taking on his current role at a community health organization.
Recently, Justin discussed his experiences in disability studies, self-advocacy and networking, as well as his thoughts on effective policy for supporting the success of future generations of diverse Y&YADs.
“I recommend disability studies for a lot of people who have disabilities; it gives you time to self-reflect and analyze how you exist within your environment.”
Justin explains his degree in disability studies “was a theoretical framework of understanding what disability meant” using an intersectional approach that examines disability through medical, social, historical and even cultural viewpoints, such as how it is portrayed in the media.
Justin emphasizes that disability studies programs are not just for individuals interested in working in the disability space. His classmates in these courses included majors in nursing, business, public policy, speech therapy and even music education seeking “a new set of skills and knowledge to look at disability in a certain way that is more universal.”
Synthesizing these perspectives led Justin to promote Universal Design (UD) in work settings, which means that “anyone designing a service should always consider how individuals with disabilities may utilize it.” According to Justin, UD is a way to “construct environments to fill all walks of life to get rid of the social constructs of disability and accommodate all [individuals].”
“As a person with a visible disability…, I need to be explicit about my accommodations and what a ‘reasonable’ accommodation means.”
Justin says Y&YADs entering the workforce should not be afraid of advocating for themselves and should “understand their own worth and what they’re capable of doing, and sometimes teach others and employers what a reasonable accommodation is.”
Justin also understands the importance of advocating for mental health support, because “mental health plays a big part for anyone with an intersectionality in their identity.” He suggests that Y&YADs encourage employers to understand mental health issues to promote greater inclusion of people from all backgrounds.
Networking and Social Supports
“I am lucky in the position I have with my career. It’s because of strong family and friend support.”
Justin stresses that social support is key to success. Family and friends can provide a safety net from “fighting in the arena for your rights.”
Furthermore, he thinks that young adults – particularly recent graduates – should maintain strong networks, because “networking is key in school. The people you meet will be your foundation and should be your go-to support for advice.”
For those without direct support, Justin recommends attending focus groups and diversity initiatives focused on disability inclusion. “Get to know directors and leaders of these initiatives – both outside organizations and groups within your school setting or workplace,” he says.
Advice to Policymakers
State policymakers can help advance opportunities for Y&YADs entering the workforce by engaging youth with disabilities (including those with intersecting social identities) in the policymaking process. “When you are helping a community, you need to bring that community with you to understand what they are facing,” Justin says, adding that he learned this lesson from his social work training. He further highlights the important role of youth voices in designing programs, noting that “sometimes, it takes someone else’s opinions to look in on the situation to get done what needs to get done.”
For more information about policy options for improving employment outcomes for Y&YADs, see CAPE-Youth’s brief, “Addressing the Needs of Youth with Disabilities and Other Intersecting Identities: State Strategies for Program Implementation.”
Disclaimer from Justin Tapp: Any opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
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