I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now, and perhaps it is time to put it out into the world. What happens with those of us in grad school–the #PhDisabled community–want to pursue a tenure-track position?
Ostensibly, we are expected to do what all other folks who want a tenure track position do: apply for all the jobs in your field, hope you’re short-listed and interviewed, and if the gods are in your favour, you’ll get a position. The hiring rate for PhD graduates in the arts/humanities/social sciences is low, so not everyone who applies will get a position. This is a systemic issue and one, but one that still favours white cishetero men. You know this (or you should) if academia the career path you want for yourself.
That path is all well and good, I suppose, so long as you’re capable to work the hours required. But what if you can’t? In order to secure tenure, you’re expected to be able to teach two (or more) courses per term, write and publish articles/books/book chapters, and take on a few administrative or community appointments. It’s a difficult job that requires a lot of hours, much of which beyond the 9-5. But the challenges of the job assume that you’re physically capable to do the job in the first place.
Employment rates for people with disabilities are significantly lower than able-bodied folks. I am positive that when other intersections are considered–such as race for example–the statistics would be even more appalling. It seems as though the world wants to push people with disabilities aside, or even kill us. So how are we supposed to find work, let alone work in academia?
Looking to myself for example, there are days when I am in so much pain I require narcotic pain killers. Sometimes I can predict these days depending on the weather forecast (or I think I can, anyway), but other times it feels like the pain comes out of nowhere. At times these are short episodes of a few hours, while it can also be for months at a time. On those days, it is very difficult for me to do basic things like showering, dressing myself, and preparing meals. In short, it is impossible to ‘be productive’ when my body is in that much pain. Once the episode is over I am also fatigued and exhausted, since pain makes you tired. This ‘pain hangover’ also makes it really hard to do work. Seeing these difficulties, how can I become a professor if there are times I physically cannot do the work expected?
Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms indicates that it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of a disability. Does that mean the requirements of my (hypothetical/desired) tenure-track appointment would be less than my able-bodied counterparts? Would I have a lighter teaching load? Would I not be expected to publish as much/as frequently? Would I be able to have fewer administrative/community appointments?
Furthermore, how would this work for things like salary and benefits? Since I’m doing ‘less work’ would I be paid half or a third as much as my peers? Would my health, dental, and vision coverage be the same? Would I be eligible for a pension (that is, if those are even offered by the time I finish)?
I don’t know how to answer my questions since I am at a loss of where to look to find the answers. That is, assuming there are even answers out there to be found. Are there places I can look? Do you know, reader?