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Breaking the Blind Unemployment Barrier

Bosma Enterprises - 10/5/2017 12:32:26 PM

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  Bosma's employment services manager, Kristy Russel, shares the struggle people who are blind face when trying to find meaningful employment.  

Kristy Cook Russell, manager of employment services at Bosma Enterprises

We hear the statistic, "There is an 8 percent unemployment rate for people with disabilities," but for someone who is blind and/or visually impaired, that statistic is grimmer; more like the 70 percent. This workforce population is often overlooked in terms of potential, qualifications, and ability. Naturally, it makes one ask why this number is so high for those who live with vision loss. There could be a multitude of reasons and misconceptions; however, the only way to move the needle is for more education of our local businesses on the hiring front: company recruiters, HR personnel, hiring managers, etc. It seems easy enough, but in reality, it isn’t.
 
The majority of the general public have not met someone who is visually impaired. This means they are not aware of different technology options, accessibility software, vision rehabilitation services, and mobility training. When someone with vision loss applies for a position that involves using a computer, the hiring manager often assumes they will not be able to perform the functions of the job because they cannot see to use a computer. The candidate doesn't make it past the first round of interviews, therefore is unable to educate the employer on how they are equipped, from prior work experience and through accessible technology, to fulfill the job duties of the position. A potentially outstanding employee just fell through the cracks.
 
The candidate performs well in the interview and makes it to the next round, and begins to discuss the type of technology they would use to perform the essential duties of the job. The hiring manager begins to wonder how the company would provide the assistance that the individual needs: adaptive technology, low lighting, an earpiece to listen to their computer, etc. They wonder who will be able to get all of this in place, and then who on staff is capable of actually training the candidate because, well, they're blind and they've never had a visually impaired employee before. This becomes overwhelming, and they decide that they can't make it happen, and pursue a different candidate. Companies are not aware of employment services provided by local agencies who have trained staff in helping a candidate with vision loss return to work. There are state and federal resources available that may help purchase the items needed, if the company is not able to, and ensures that the individual has everything they need to be able to do the job. Employment Specialists are also available to train the company staff in addition to adjusting the candidate to their new worksite.
 
People who are blind and/or visually impaired are problem solvers, driven, and tenacious individuals simply due to their daily ability to think creatively as they cope with their vision loss. Often, they are more loyal employees and dedicated to their company because they were given a chance to prove they were the right person for the job. While legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibits discrimination based on disability, employers can decline to hire a blind/visually impaired candidate on the basis that the applicant is unable to perform the duties of the job. However, if the applicant isn't given a chance to prove that he/she is able to do the required work, then dismissing his/her abilities solely on the basis of them being blind or visually impaired is a form of discrimination. It shouldn't have to be a factor, but it unfortunately happens.
 
While October is recognized as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the awareness can't stop here. Inclusion and diversity need to be researched and at the focal point for all companies. It is known that there is an untapped pool of highly qualified, educated, experienced candidates currently looking to re-enter the workforce. They are eager, they are ready. All they are waiting for is the opportunity.