Tag Archives: right to work

Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

Recently, I read this odd article, penned by Judith Warner, in the New York Times–one in a stream of many that detail how excessively awful the current generation of young people (read: young workers) is at putting its collective nose to the grindstone, sucking it up, and generally not acting like a bunch of brats, or something.

Many of us have heard about, or come into contact with, some of these bright young things. They are heralded — or, more commonly, blasted — as naive, entitled, too optimistic, and over-confident. In many of these articles, their numerous faults are listed: They don’t know how to dress professionally! They expect to march into the workplace of their choice and immediately start making a six figure-salary! They think they are perfect! They want praise all of the time! (Does no one who writes these sorts of articles stop to consider that many human beings want praise when they complete a task to the best of their abilities?) They have tattoos, dyed hair, and iPods! EVERYBODY PANIC, because the American workplace is apparently going to be dragged down by Generation Y’s entitlement, narcissism and laziness! This narrative, however, seems to apply mostly to a very specific subset of the population (and even the picture that accompanies the NYT article reinforces this): young, able-bodied, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated white people.

This erases, or conveniently ignores, a hell of a lot of folks who are not young, abled, middle/upper-middle class, and white. It erases young workers who may not have had the “expected” educational opportunities (such as college), or who had to take more than the expected four years to finish their degree, or who did not finish school. It erases people whose parents or family members may not have been quite so “involved” in their education, or in their lives at all. Of course, it also erases young people with disabilities — both those who cannot work, and those who want to work but who may be bumping up against various narratives such as that of the “entitled” Generation Y kid. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation — because we cannot stop worrying despite the fact that we are supposed to be totally optimistic and confident all of the time, always thinking that the roads leading to our perfect job will be lined with rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and gold.

Some of us have physical disabilities, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses that prevent us from working 40-hour weeks (or more); asking for accommodations or disclosing our condition(s), we fear, may make us look “entitled,” or like we do not want to put in the time necessary to work our way up — even if this is not the case. The fact is that many people, and many young people, with disabilities are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and making a living. Not only are many people with disabilities, at least in the U.S., more likely to face lengthy stretches of unemployment and/or live in poverty regardless of age, but many face additional hostility, discrimination, and unreasonable demands, both in the workplace and from society at large because of their disabilities.

While I am not saying that these over-entitled Generation Y-ers don’t exist (I’ve had run-ins with quite a few of them, myself), I am struck by the fact that the narrative surrounding them is so dependent upon erasing or ignoring certain people whose bodies and experiences do not fit the “expected” attitudes about labor that have been traditionally upheld by American culture. Many of these attitudes, furthermore, rely heavily on binaries that reinforce who “counts” and who does not: You either work full-time, or you’re lazy. You’re willing to be mistreated in the workplace and do whatever it takes “for the job,” or you’re a wimp. Suck it up, or go home. If you’re not making enough money to live on or are poor, you just aren’t working hard enough. If you ask for “accommodations,” you’re asking for too much — just do your job! You have to work hard to “make it,” and if you don’t work hard enough, it’s your fault. If you don’t like your job or face daily mistreatment, you can always quit and find another one, right? But if you can’t, it’s your fault, and why did you quit that job, anyway? These attitudes surrounding work affect people with disabilities in a wide variety of age groups and generational cohorts, and this is a crucial part of why they are so important to critically question and examine.

The message for Generation Y, in general, may be “Get over yourself,” but the message for those who do not fit the characteristics of the “average” Generation Y worker is more severe — and ultimately more dire.

[Cross-posted at ham blog]

Deaf and Hard of Hearing California State Employees Sue For Workplace Accommodations

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, is often pointed to as an example of progressive legislation in the United States that magically solves the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities. It’s a Federal civil rights law that is designed to outline and protect basic rights for people with disabilities for people across the United States and deals with employment, public transit, and many other aspects of life.

Anti-accommodation folks snarl about the ADA, arguing that the requirements are excessive and unreasonable and that having to follow them takes too much time and money. This particular disability rights activist has mixed feelings about it. For one thing, yay, a law that says it is not ok to discriminate against people with disabilities. But discrimination is not something you can legislate away, and laws are only useful inasmuch as they are enforced.

‘Enforcement’ usually requires the money and time to go to court to sue for violations, along with a solid case that would be difficult to challenge or throw out. Here in California, seven Deaf employees of the State of California, along with Deaf and Hard of Hearing State Workers United, just filed suit in a San Francisco court against several state agencies along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They are charging that they are not being adequately accommodated under ADA rules.

‘…the state frequently substitutes insufficient or ineffective forms of communication — lip reading, e-mail, videophones and interpretations by co-workers unskilled in sign language — rather than provide qualified interpreters.’ (source)

‘…the state regularly fails to fulfill interpreter requests for staff meetings, job trainings, departmental meetings, performance reviews and meetings with consumers and the public at large, and that the state lacks adequate evacuation procedures or warning lights to alert its deaf employees in an emergency.’ (source)

Failure to accommodate Deaf and hard of hearing workers, in addition to being frustrating and potentially dangerous for those workers, is also bad for the public. Some state workers may not be able to communicate easily with members of the public and conversely, Deaf and hard of hearing members of the public can’t communicate easily with with hearing state workers when the state refuses to provide accommodations. California is often touted as a model state when it comes to access for people with disabilities. This lawsuit illustrates exactly how ‘model’ we are.

The reason we’re more accessible than some other states? It’s not because California is so very progressive. It’s primarily because the disability rights movement is very strong in the Bay Area and pushes for access and full inclusion relentlessly. A lot of victories have been won here, but we still have a long way to go.

The plaintiffs are attempting to get the suit certified as a class action so that all of the 1,500 Deaf and hard of hearing state employees in California can join. They are also not seeking financial damages. The suit is being filed solely to compel the State of California to obey the law.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The ADA is supposed to be this great triumph. A ramp on every building and a TTY phone in every office, right? The way people complain about how difficult it is to provide accommodations, you’d think that everyone in the United States was personally ensuring that every environment they were in complied scrupulously with ADA regulations. A lot of these regulations are actually not terribly helpful and poorly constructed; parts of the ADA are great on paper but not so great in practice. Others are unclear, so no one is really sure about how to enforce them.

Violations are the norm, not the exception to the rule. Many people seem to treat the ADA as optional, as something that looks rather pretty but doesn’t actually need to be followed, even as they pay lip service to the idea that they don’t discriminate, as some workplaces do by putting ‘an equal opportunity employer’ in their ads. And people who need accommodation that they are entitled to under the law usually can’t just ask nicely. They have to sue.

I often want to ask opponents of the ADA how they would feel if they had to sue for the right to enter buildings. Communicate with their coworkers. Obtain safe housing. On the most fundamental level, to sue for the right to exist at all. How they would feel knowing that landlords, employers, and members of the public resent them for being a ‘nuisance’ and get angry with them when they sue to protect their supposedly federally guaranteed rights.

People should not have to sue to be able to do their jobs. People should not have to sue to be able to communicate with each other. Yet, they do, on a pretty regular basis, and a lot of those cases never make the news.