[Nfbmo] article on employment of the blind

Julie McGinnity kaybaycar at gmail.com
Sun May 19 23:27:13 UTC 2013

Hi everyone,

I read this article today and thought it would be of interest,
especially to the employment research committee.  The link to the
article and text of the article can be found below:  Enjoy!

* * *

Hiring blind: the Misconceptions facing America's visually impaired workforce


As a recruiting manager staffing for clients such as Google and Apple,
I was concerned about three things: experience, unemployment gaps, and
the probability of the person becoming a long-term employee.

I interviewed few disabled candidates and rarely considered their job
prospects. As a recruiter, I rarely debated if and how they would be
able to perform the duties of a position. I soon found a new
perspective — one that changed the way I viewed both the role of the
recruiter and the place of people with disabilities in the job market.

A Shift in Thinking

I was attacked more than six years — a beating that caused severe
retinal trauma, which left me blind. A year after the attack, I found
myself at California’s Orientation Center for the Blind, learning new
ways to complete necessary daily tasks. Most significantly, I learned
that while I had helped place hundreds of people into positions at top
companies, my opportunities and chances of finding a job were slim.

Members of the blind community warned me that I would need a lot of
patience when I began my job search. I now belonged to a group of
people erroneously viewed by recruiters as unskilled, unproductive,
and more difficult. I didn’t need my guide dog, Madge, to sniff out
the irony of my new situation.

According to University of Illinois at Chicago professor and
disabilities studies scholar Dr. Lennard Davis, these stereotypes
exist in part because people’s misconceptions of the blind are split
between thinking they’re completely helpless or brimming with
superpowers. These misconceptions carry over into the business world
and can seriously confuse potential employers.

The Misconceptions of Managers

According to a recent study done by the nonprofit National Industries
for the Blind (NIB), out of 3.5 million blind Americans of working
age, a walloping 70 percent are not employed. And of the 30 percent
working, the majority work for blind organizations.

One major reason blind people struggle to find employment is that
public misconceptions of the blind affect hiring managers’ perceptions
of potential candidates who are visually impaired. I’d like to break
down a few of these — put out by the NIB study — and discuss why these
misconceptions are fallacies.

“Among hiring managers, most respondents (54 percent) felt there were
few jobs at their company that blind employees could perform, and 45
percent said accommodating such workers would require ‘considerable

The reality is that a blind person can do any job that involves a
computer, and there are a slew of adaptive tech toys that make most
jobs accessible, such as a portable scanner to read printed material.
As for the purported expense, according to The American Foundation for
the Blind, most accommodations cost less than $1,000, a negligible
amount for a serious business.

“Forty-two percent of hiring managers believe blind employees need
someone to assist them on the job; 34 percent said blind workers are
more likely to have work-related accidents.”

This fear can be attributed to some of our common idioms, e.g., “It’s
like the blind leading the blind.” This phrase implies poor navigation
skills, when the reality is that blind people often have superb
orientation skills due to hours of training by mobility experts. Far
from being clumsy, the visually impaired have an attention to detail
that most sighted people lack. Insurance statistics back this up:
Blind people actually have better safety records than their sighted
“Nineteen percent of hiring managers believe blind employees have a
higher absentee rate.”

In reality, blind people don’t actually miss more time from work. A
DuPont study, completed during a 25-year span, found that disabled
people, in general, have better attendance than 90 percent of their
non-disabled colleagues.

The Realities of 2013

The disabled did not get their rights during the Civil Rights movement
and had to wait until the ‘90s for the Americans with Disabilities Act
to pass. Even now, many people assume the blind are unemployable. As a
former recruiter, I realize there are different requirements and
considerations that need to be addressed when hiring a visually
impaired individual, but without changing our perspective on the
capabilities of the blind, we can never end the discrimination that
still takes place.

Some companies such as Google, Apple, and Yahoo! routinely hire
visually impaired employees. The U.S. government — especially the CIA,
the Department of Rehabilitation, and the Social Security Agency —
also hires many visually impaired people.

Jobs capitalizing on the unique skills the blind develop are also
being created. Givaudan, a company in the fragrance and flavors
business, has developed a special internship program designed to give
the blind work experience. Participants evaluate fragrances, detecting
subtle differences that aid the creative team.

It will take some time to abolish blind stereotypes. However, both the
blind and sighted people can contribute to the shift.

How Managers Can Improve Inclusivity

Prejudices toward the blind workforce are not beyond repair. In
addition to a “lead by example” role that managers can take, they can
also become more inclusive by reaching out to groups that cater to the
blind to recruit for potential new hires.

Encourage your human resources department to diversify its pipeline of
candidates by recruiting from employment programs at organizations
such as LightHouse in San Francisco and The Lions Center for the
Blind. Hiring a blind person for an internship not only gives him job
experience but also will encourage others to be more open to
considering a person who is blind for a position in the future.

If a company is serious about inclusivity, then it is also very
important that its website and job application portal be ADA
compliant. Companies can also demonstrate a commitment to diversity by
portraying blind people in their recruitment advertising.

How the Blind Can Increase Their Chances of Hire

The reality is that we live in a sighted world, and stereotypes
pervade the workplace. For people without sight, bring your adaptive
equipment along to interviews to demonstrate how you would complete
required tasks to give the hiring manager the insight he needs to make
a decision.

Network in the blind community and get to know people in your line of
work. If you know of a person who is blind and doing the job similar
to the one you are applying for, get advice from him and obtain a
reference if you can. Telling a hiring manager about another blind
person in a similar role can help you land the job. Finally, do not
hesitate to report a company if you believe you were discriminated

How Sighted People Can Help

If you work for a company that does not feature people with
disabilities on its employment page, let your employer know he is not
being inclusive. You can also ask your employer, school, and friends
what they are doing to acknowledge disability awareness month in

Education helps young people crush outdated beliefs at an early age.
In California, the FAIR Education Act, which passed in 2011, requires
public schools to include disability education. If you are a parent
outside of California, demand your school district to add disability
studies to its curriculum.

Finally, perform a quick Google search any time a disabilities
stereotype crosses your mind. Educating yourself on the truth about
disabilities is the best way to eliminate outdated stereotypes.

It will take time to change the collective consciousness of society
and root out wrongful discrimination against people with disabilities.
However, people can help by educating themselves about issues facing
blind people today, discouraging outdated stereotypes, and working to
encourage inclusivity in their workplaces.

Belo Cipriani is a freelance writer, speaker, and author of Blind: A
Memoir. Belo was the keynote speaker for the 2011 Americans with
Disabilities Act celebration in San Francisco and was a guest lecturer
at both Yale University and the University of San Francisco. Amber
Clovers, his first work of fiction, will be published in 2013. He
welcomes anyone to reach out to him at belocipriani.com or on Twitter
@Beloism and Google+.

Julie McG
National Association of Guide dog Users board member,  National
Federation of the Blind performing arts division secretary,
Missouri Association of Guide dog Users President,
and Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate 2008
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal
John 3:16

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