Today was a much needed break. Work has been pretty hectic lately as it was the end of our fiscal year and then yesterday I helped one of my best friends (who also has RP) unpack her new home. Steven and I were on our way home from an adventure with Makiko and I started to wonder… What’s this history behind Labor Day? I mean, I knew that it was to honor the Labor Movement, but didn’t really know much beyond that. (I’ll admit, history is NOT my strength). I learned that Labor Day was first proposed in the 1880’s to honor workers, the strength, prosperity, and well-being they bring to this country, and the social and economic achievements of American workers. This is pretty neat.
However, I immediately started thinking about my job and that is to assist individuals with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment. There have been HUGE improvements in employing individuals with disabilities, but we still have more room to ve a grow, of course. I believe this is especially true for employing individuals who are blind. There are so many very qualified individuals with visual impairments who have advanced degrees, hold impressive licenses and certifications, and are overlooked almost automatically when their vision loss is discovered through many parts of the application process.
i mentioned this statistic before but it still really blows me away (in a bad way) and makes me sad. The percentage of working aged adults who are unemployed is 70%. The percentage of working-aged adults with vision loss who live in poverty is 30%. While there are cures for many eye conditions, the rate of blindness is supposed to double by 2030 due to the country’s aging population.
We are in luck that the advancements of technology are astounding and employing individuals with blindness is becoming easier and easier as a result. By 2030, there will be even more amazing advancements that will make it even easier. Unfortunately, many employers won’t even give applicants with blindness the chance to show how they can use technology and other accommodations to be productive employees of their company and make a difference. There have been many stories and studies published in the past few years (such as those from New York Times and American Federation for the Blind) that show blindness is more feared than any other condition. I know this fear in American and more specifically the fear among employers in hiring individuals with blindness is the lack of education and exposure to individuals with vision loss who are successful, independent, productive, and contributing members to society..
Recently, I spoke with a co-worker about the benefits for hiring people with disabilities which include (in general):
- Higher retention rate/Loyalty to company – People with disabilities tend to stay with their employer longer when they find an employer that is accommodating and they enjoy because it IS so hard to find sometimes.
- Reliable employee – Employees with disabilities tend to take less d of leave and work harder because they do appreciate the opportunity to work and the opportunities they have.
- Increase diversity in the workplace – This is pretty obvious but there are many types of diversity – age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. People with disabilities bring a unique type of diversity to the workforce.
- Creativity in problem solving – While accommodations are in place and help try to make it an equal playing field, there are inevitably problems that arise that an individual with a disability needs to figure out. There are so many things that aren’t accessible or work-able based on your disability but people with disabilities get pretty creative to overcome these obstacles and have a pretty unique ability to problem-solve.
A supervisor or hiring manager may not know how the applicant can perform certain tasks or how things will look, but thats a dialogue that can happen with the employee after hire. Those things can often be figured out but personality and being a good fit in the work environment is less easy to train or figure out.
When I was hired at my current job as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, I was blessed to not be discriminated against due to my vision loss. Sure, there were questions about how I would be able to do parts of my job (such as the significant amount of traveling on a daily basis), but they were going to let me figure out that out, with their support… and I will NEVER forget that. (I learned this later of course, not at the time of hire or not even in the first year of my employment). Many members of management had no experience with supervising individuals with vision loss, but they were willing to learn. SO important! Now, one may say.. well that’s how it wor be, you work in the disability field!” While this is true, there are still many managers in this field who don’t accommodate vision loss that well or aren’t willing to learn.. There are obviously even more outside of the disability community who don’t accommodate people with vision loss very well, or are afraid of vision loss and/or not willing to learn and this makes it very hard for people with vision loss to obtain competitive, integrated employment.
My hope is that more employers look at the individual for their education, strengths, assets, skills, personality, and abilities and hire the person accordingly and then have open dialogue with the employee to work out the accommodations piece later. There are so many amazing people with blindness who would be excellent contribute ons to the workplace, if given the chance.
We, as a nation, have come a long way but still have a long ways to go. Please think about what you can do, in whatever capacity you serve your communities today, to make a difference. Diversity strengthens any workforce.