Students and Early Career Professionals: Expectations Matter
KATE FIALKOWSKI 0:01
Hi, this is Kate Fialkowski with the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. This is being recorded for the #DisChange20 online symposium. And we're currently hearing from students and early career professionals on the topic expectations matter. I'm delighted to have Heather Kerstetter with us. Heather is an active disability rights advocate and a student in our Masters of Social Work program here at Temple.
Heather, I can't thank you enough for being with us here today. Thank you so much.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 0:33
Hi, Kate, I'm happy to be here. Thank you for having me!
KATE FIALKOWSKI 0:37
Hey, you know I gave your title but would you like to start by telling us a little bit about your background and what you'd like to share?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 0:45
Yeah, I'd love to. Um, so like you said, I attend Temple University. I'm a Masters of Social Work student. I'll be graduating this May of 2020. So pretty excited about that.
My focusing is mostly policy of all kinds really and how policy affects the disability population.
My advanced year internship that I'm in right now is at the Lenfest, North Philadelphia workforce initiative. And I'm mostly focusing my efforts on research of disability in the North Philadelphia community, and kind of defining the best practices for engaging disabled residents in the workforce in North Philadelphia.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 1:27
I am disabled myself, I'm a disability activist. I have muscular atrophy, which is a progressive neuromuscular disease, and I've been a wheelchair user for, I mean, basically my whole life. So that's a little bit about me.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 1:43
HEATHER KERSTETTER 1:44
KATE FIALKOWSKI 1:44
Hey, um, For the uninitiated, that might be listening. There is a difference between being an advocate and an activist, what do you.. How would you qualify the difference between the two of those?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 1:58
Well, I think that an activist does things like lobbying, you know, talking with senators and, you know, public policy people on disability issues. And I think an advocate is somebody who also discusses these issues but more within a community.
Um, like for instance, myself, I consider myself a little bit of both. Like, I like to be called an advocate because I focus my efforts more on the disability community and kind of building them up and allowing themselves to build up to being an activist and working in that way.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 2:37
Awesome. Thank you.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 2:39
KATE FIALKOWSKI 2:40
And, you know, the topic of our whole symposium today is combating implicit bias and employment. And you --congratulations by the way -- that you will be a soon to be minted social worker this spring. Congratulations.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 2:57
KATE FIALKOWSKI 2:58
Um, so you know, from your professional experience and from your social work lens. What do we need to know about disability bias?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 3:09
All right. So here's the thing. I feel like this is a little bit of a hard truth to swallow. But everybody has biases, right? So they may not realize it, or they may realize it. But everybody has biases.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 3:25
HEATHER KERSTETTER 3:25
And the fact of the matter is, is that biases towards people with disabilities are unfortunately almost always going to be negative biases. Most of the time, these biases are implicit, meaning that people don't necessarily consciously act on some sort of dislike of people with disabilities. But it's kind of an attitude that buried in them. It's a learned attitude. It's based on like, stigma and lack of disability representation and just kinds of things like that, right. So implicit biases are pretty difficult to filter through.
People might outwardly say that they treat everybody equally. And they might even want to treat everybody equally. But their biases might be so invisible to anybody but the person or the group that they're directed at. Does that make sense?
KATE FIALKOWSKI 4:15
Yeah, thank you. So, um, yeah, maybe you can give us an example. What would it look like? If it's manifested? Like, how would I know if I'm encountering somebody would I know if I'm encountering somebody with a disability bias?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 4:34
You know, it really kind of depends. I'm gonna say that people with disabilities themselves have kind of a maybe like an intuition that they're experiencing this kind of disability bias. But people without disabilities might not recognize it. I can give you an example of something that I've experienced myself.
So as I said early I'm a wheelchair user, right? And I'm grateful to say that I've accomplished a lot of things, things that I'm extremely proud of doing. You know, I've traveled to a lot of places I've had a lot of public speaking, I've lobbied, I've done so many cool things. But on a very, very unfortunately consistent basis. I like I get congratulated for leaving my house on my own. Or, or I'll be asked like, if if my helper is with me or things like that. And so do these people mean bad? Or do they say these things with poor intentions? Absolutely not. They're not doing because they mean poorly. But is it disability bias? Is it ableism? Yes, absolutely. It is.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 5:46
Hey, so you use the word ableism. And
HEATHER KERSTETTER 5:48
KATE FIALKOWSKI 5:49
there might be some listeners who have never heard that word before. You know, do you want to put out a colloquial definition?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 5:59
I would like to do that. Yeah. So, um, ableism is kind of a, it's an attitude where people are, like condemned or alienated or feared or things like that, due to their disability. It's acting on a bias. Ableism tends to be more an explicit bias where people are acting on that, but it can also be implicit bias.
That's kind of a, it's kind of a difficult thing to explain, because there's a lot of facets to ableism
KATE FIALKOWSKI 6:35
Yeah, you know, I always think of it to as, you know, maybe a preference. So people might have a learned preference on what this like, ideal person looks like. And I feel like we see that more and more through social media because, you know, everybody's doctoring up their photos and, you know, so people are really acting on this kind of idealistic view of what a person looks like.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 7:07
Sure, it's kind of like a it's kind of like a discrimination that in favor of able-bodiedness or non-disabled?
KATE FIALKOWSKI 7:15
Well, I find it really infuriating, but that's a conversation for another day maybe?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 7:20
KATE FIALKOWSKI 7:21
Um, so, you know, from an employment perspective, because you worked with the Lenfest program. So what would the ramifications or impacts of bias be on a work environment at a work situation?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 7:40
So I think there's two things that I kind of want to discuss with this answer. And the first is the impact that bias has on employers and then the impact that bias has on people with disabilities.
So basically, the impact of bias is huge. I think that the numbers don't lie and people with disabilities are far less likely to be employed than people without disabilities, even when they have the same or better qualifications than nondisabled people.
The potential of disabled people is kind of shadowed by all these learned attitudes, you know, disabled people need more help, or they cost more to an employer or they'll be less productive, they'll need more time off, you know, their their image might affect consumer buy in, you know, all these different things. And despite none of those things actually be true.The biases are still there.
So people with disabilities end up, you know, employed less employed at lower salaries, and even employers will have lower expectations of people with disabilities, and they don't get the same opportunities as other employees.
So then, also on, on the flip side, there's also a thing called internalized ableism, which I think can be kind of summed up by its kind of like disabled people thinking, am I good enough? Am I productive enough? You know, can I do this? That kinda internal feeling.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 9:08
Right when you keep hearing that message over and over again, I mean, it seems natural to start to internalize these things people do rightly.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 9:17
Absolutely. And so that also impacts you know, the disabled person's ability to recognize that they are in fact worth the opportunities that are presented to them so in a way there's there's bias coming from both sides.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 9:32
Thank you. That was a really rich response. I really appreciate it and and hopefully it will give our listeners some things to think about in terms of themselves what they are thinking and feeling.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 9:43
KATE FIALKOWSKI 9:45
Um, do you have anything else that you might want to caution or advise the listeners on related to bias and employment opportunities?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 9:58
So, I think it's kind of important for people to remember to consistently check their privilege. And I know that people kind of get up in arms about the phrase check your priveledge. But it's not really a bad thing. All that it means is that somebody needs to take a moment to assess how the world might see them as more capable or more qualified are more worthy of opportunity, you know, and acknowledge why that is. So they can work to actively change how the world views others.
So for instance, nondisabled person might recognize that maybe they're less likely than a disabled person, or they're less qualified than a disabled person for a promotion or something like that. No, nobody wants to turn that promotion and I get that, but they can also acknowledge that the disabled person deserves the chance and that they probably also need the financial cushion more than they do. So does that make sense?
KATE FIALKOWSKI 10:54
Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much.
You know, I'm just listening while you're talking and thinking, there's a part of that, too, that you're saying that is, you know, just like making room for other people.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 11:11
KATE FIALKOWSKI 11:11
So that sort of check your privilege and then use that to make space like to, to take action based on that is what you're saying.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 11:21
That's exactly it. Yes.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 11:24
HEATHER KERSTETTER 11:25
KATE FIALKOWSKI 11:26
Now, all of this, we have a lot of students who may be listening. I'm hoping we have some students who may be listening.
So, you know, students with disabilities are hearing a lot of messaging, they see a lot of messaging and sometimes it's what you don't see if you're seeing advertisements for jobs or, or people in certain careers, on social media on regular media in movies. you're receiving information externally Information about what you can do what you can't do.
So, gosh, what professional advice would you give students and, and others with disabilities in in following a career path of their dreams?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 12:18
Yeah. Well, let's see. I feel like professional advice is tricky. I kind of want to give more of like a heart-to-heart as a disabled person.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 12:27
HEATHER KERSTETTER 12:46
And so what I really recommend is just like finding a passion, finding something that you love finding something that you want to do, and going after it with your whole heart, because your effort and your passion is hopefully gonna be enough to edge around any kind of discrimination that you might face. So I guess what I'm trying to say is like, don't choose a career just because you think, oh, a disabled person could do this. Choose a career because it feels right. And because you love what you're doing, because you can do that. And then make as many connections as you can within your field, because that will help you along the way. There is something out there for you as long as you're following your passion.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 13:30
Terrific, thank you very much.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 13:32
KATE FIALKOWSKI 13:35
Hey, I'm looking at the time. And I know we don't have much more time left.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 13:41
KATE FIALKOWSKI 13:42
And I feel like we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about the current situation that we're in right in this very moment.
Boy, we're in a time of just....it's really unprecedented. What we're seeing
HEATHER KERSTETTER 14:01
KATE FIALKOWSKI 14:02
And in academia, we're making tons of changes overnight. I mean, just for example, this symposium, switching up from being an in place symposium to these recorded interviews. So, I don't know, is there any opportunity in this situation? Um, for people with disabilities, is there? Is there some something that we can share about this moment in time?
HEATHER KERSTETTER 14:32
I definitely think so. And I want to tell you that honestly, in the beginning, I was kind of a little bit angry for the disabled population, because all of a sudden accommodations are being made for people that weren't that we were told could never be made before. But at this point, it honestly gives me hope. I think that there's been this ongoing thing with technology as long as it's been around that you know, disabled people can use technology as as a tool in order to be more involved in the workplace and in the workforce. And so my, my hope is that, now that we know this is possible that it's a wave of the future that like productivity and remote work and things like that can go hand in hand. And people with disabilities and chronic illness and such can use this era as an example of, you know, see, these accommodations have been made in the past, and they can be made in the future going forward as well.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 15:33
Well, that's man, you really said it. I can only hope for the same thing, right, that this is precedent setting, and that there is an opportunity in in this because it is precedent setting, and that we can leverage it in the future.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 15:48
Sure. Yeah. I really hope that's the case.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 15:51
Thank you. Now, do you have a last thought that you'd like to leave us with today?
Unknown Speaker 15:58
I think Yeah, I do.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 16:00
I think what I want to leave us with is that the way to combat implicit and even explicit bias is to make disability as visible as possible. The more that people interact with people with disabilities, the more hopefully they realize that we're all wanting the same. representation is crucial. And so I think that's what I want to leave everyone with have disabled people on your boards, have them in your leadership, call on them for advice, you know, talk about and showcase accessibility, pay disabled people competitive salaries, uh, you know, just genuinely have hard conversations with people about the disability experience because a lot of disabled people are open to sharing these experiences in exchange for the hope that people hear them and make these changes. So yeah, representation is everything.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 16:54
Thank you. So for our listeners, you heard it here from HEATHER KERSTETTER MSW and disability activists advocate.
Representation is crucial. We need to make disability more visible. And that's something that everybody can do open doors. Welcome people in and make an effort. And for students who are thinking about kind of what's coming next what's happening in careers. Our advice is find what you love, find your passion, and make sure you make connections and connections and passions can help you move mountains.
So thanks very much to Heather. Heather again, I appreciate so much your time today.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 17:37
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you.
KATE FIALKOWSKI 17:40
I look forward to talking to you soon Heather. Thanks.
HEATHER KERSTETTER 17:43
You as well. Thanks.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai