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Walking the Employment Talk

What Would You Think About Hiring a Person with a Disability?

What if the next person who walked in the door to interview for a position in your company walked in using a white cane? Explained that they used a screen magnifier on their computer, or pulled out a handheld magnifier to read some of the documents you presented to them?

Might you wonder if they were capable of doing the advertised position? Would you worry about the liability in your workplace of someone with a vision impairment? Is there a quiet voice whispering in your ear, "It’s the right thing to do, hiring a person with a disability?"

The 2018 NDEAM theme—America's Workforce: Empowering All—appears in the bottom half of the poster in red and navy blue lettering. Below the theme are the words National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The setting of the image is an office meeting room where an employee wearing a red polo shirt and using a power wheelchair is presenting the outcome of recent research on his laptop computer to three co-workers. At the bottom left is DOL's logo with the following words: OFFICE OF DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT POLICY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. Center bottom is hashtag NDEAM and the URL to ODEP's website

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the theme is "America's Workforce: Empowering All." You might be surprised to learn that "walking the talk," on hiring an employee who is blind, visually impaired, or who may have some other disability is one of the smartest things you can do for the bottom line of your business!

Sure, for many of us, the idea of offering a job or opportunity to someone with a disability, may conjure up all kinds of emotions—some of them very conflicting, and most of them based on misperceptions. Consider for a moment some of these facts:

Workplace Accommodations Won't Affect the Bottom Line

Most workplace accommodations cost little or nothing. The average cost of a workplace accommodation is a one-time cost of less than $500 ($1.37 per day for the first year). Research documents lower turn-over rates for employees with disabilities, higher safety records, and less time out of work due to accidents. Workers with disabilities are absent less often than co-workers according to studies at Dupont and IT&T research. (See "Myths, Misconceptions, and Realities Of Disability" for more information).

Workplace innovation increases, research shows, with diversity among employees. According to Sipperstein et al, 92% of American consumers surveyed in 2005 viewed companies more favorably if their hiring included workers with a disability.

Employers--as you can tell from the research, walking the talk, opening the door and welcoming a diverse workforce, one that includes individuals with disabilities is one of the smartest things you can do to boost your bottom line!

Check out the stats on the Department of Labor website or the Forbes article on The Benefits of Disability in the Workplace".

More About Employment of People with Vision Loss

Ideas for Employers

Job Accomodation Questions and Answers for Employers

Legal Considerations for Employment

Finding a Job When You Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Christine Ha is a blind chef; Gary Vermeij is a blind biology professor; Joleen Ferguson is a visually impaired physical therapist, and Bernie Vinther is a blind machinist. How about you—what is your anticipated career? In what field are you highly motivated to work?

Whether youÕre still in school and in the early stages of preparing for employment, or youÕre looking to advance in your career or change careers entirely, itÕs wise to map out how you will prepare for and conduct a successful job search.

As a person who is blind or visually impaired, your job search will not only include the typical phases but will also include determining when and how to disclose your visual impairment and how you will address potential employer concerns.

CareerConnect is here to guide you through the entire job seeking process.

Read the following article, "Find a Job as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired" to learn how to:

  • Prepare for and Conduct a Job Search
  • Find Job Leads
  • Identify the Fastest-Growing Industries in America
  • Develop Strategies for Getting Hired
  • Explore Job Postings

Next, read "Disclosing a Visual Impairment" to help weigh the pros and cons of sharing your eye condition and required job accommodations at different times during the hiring process.

Lastly, read "Addressing Liability, Accessibility, and Transportation" to guide you through proactively eliminating employer concerns related to hiring an individual with vision loss.

So go, equip yourself for the job, attain it, and then add yourself to the ever-growing database of "Our Stories: People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Succeeding at Work and Life."

Additional Resources

Careers for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

Tips for Exploring Careers as a Job Seeker Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

The Job Seeker's Toolkit

Christina Holtzclaw Uses Her Career to Empower People with Disabilities

For the last 14 years, Christina Holtzclaw has worked tirelessly at the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living in Rome, Georgia. This nonprofit organization assists individuals of all ages who have all types of disabilities and helps them reach their goals of living independently. They serve 15 counties, and the majority of the staff are people with disabilities. In her role as assistant director, Holtzclaw meets one-on-one with consumers in the community, collaborates with the office nursing home coordinator and other staff, works on the budget and finances, meets with the board of directors, and whatever else needs to be done. The core services of the Center are independent living skills training, information & referral, peer mentoring, self-advocacy, and transition services. "Peer support is the most unique service that we offer," Holtzclaw said. "I would have given up if I didn’t have others with disabilities in my life as I pursued my career."

Growing Up and Going to School with a Visual Impairment

Holtzclaw developed congenital cataracts from infancy. She was born premature and stayed in an incubator that caused damage to her eyes, particularly her retina. She is the oldest of three children and grew up like most children. "I didn’t realize until I was in school that I had a vision problem because my parents treated me like everyone else," she remembered. "I appreciate that now more than I did back then."

Holtzclaw attended regular public school, even though she wanted to go to the Macon Academy for the Blind, which is the residential school for blind and visually impaired children in the state of Georgia. Her parents wanted her close to home, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 had just passed. This act allowed for disabled children to attend federally funded public schools. But staying close to home presented some new and interesting challenges for Holtzclaw. First, her teacher had just been hired. Second, there was little to no assistive technology to her in class or at home to get assignments done; all she had was a typewriter.

It was not until the third grade that things began to improve. She got a CCTV to read printed materials, a tape recorder, and black magic markers. She also began to learn braille. But in order to learn braille, she had to attend two schools. The vision teacher was located at another school that had more visually impaired students whereas she was the only one at her school. So, she was bused across town for class. "We were some of the first blind students at that time," Holtzclaw said. "Everyone was just kind of scrambling to figure it out and make it work."

College Life and Accommodations

Holtzclaw persevered, graduated high school, and headed to college at Shorter University. She had learned white cane mobility skills but thought it best to get a guide dog to travel around campus. Once on campus, her accommodations were much better. "Computers were making their way in, and I had readers to record my lessons onto tape recorders," Holtzclaw explained. "I also used a Kurzweil reader because there was a blind professor on campus, and he allowed me to use some of his equipment."

Finding a Job

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1996, she began to job search. But like most blind people, it was very difficult. "I was feeling very discouraged," she said. She eventually found a job working at a sheltered workshop and worked there almost one year. But during that period, her self-esteem took a hit. "This was not what I wanted, but it was work," she recalled. Holtzclaw shared that at the time she felt "ashamed and embarrassed" about working at the sheltered workshop; however, she feels differently now. "I am glad that I had that experience because I know what it is like, and it helps to do the job I do today," she said. "I can see why people give up and get discouraged."

In 1998, a new company came into the Rome area hiring customer service representatives. Even though this was not in her field of study, Holtzclaw worked with her vocational rehabilitation counselor and was hired. She worked at Sitel Corporation for five years until the company closed. This job was a much better experience. "I had better pay and benefits," Holtzclaw said. "I also met my husband there and purchased a home, too." She also got accommodations with assistive technology which was especially critical because glaucoma was starting to develop around this time. But on a sad note, her guide dog passed away, and she decided not to get another one.

Holtzclaw found herself job searching again but only for a short time. She heard about an organization opening called Disability Link-NW that served the disabled population in her area. Later the name was changed to the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living. It was in its infancy and just getting off the ground. In 2004, she applied for their independent living coordinator position and was hired.

"When I went in for the interview I couldn’t find the building because it was so new, there was one fax machine that was not even hooked up yet and one desk," she explained. "I helped build the organization from the ground up. I even was involved in the design of the current building, making sure it was accessible and accommodating." It was only three staff members in the beginning, and now, there are eight today. Holtzclaw was upfront about her abilities and limitations during her interview because she knew that this agency would be serving people in rural parts of the community with little to no transportation. "I said in the interview that I couldn’t drive, and the director said that she couldn’t either," Holtzclaw chuckled. They were able to work things out, and she even went back and got a guide dog again to assist her better in commuting for work.

That was 14 years ago, and Holtzclaw is still there but now works as assistant director. "This job has been the biggest blessing of my whole life," Holtzclaw said cheerfully. "This was what I always wanted." Holtzclaw credits her happiness at work with the fact that she can relate to her consumers. She is able to assist because she remembers what it is like on the other side of that desk. "I think it is hard to take advice from someone who has not faced the same issues," she said. "I think relatability is highly underestimated."

Other Stories from Employees with Vision Loss

Our Stories: People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Succeeding at Work and Life

About the World of Business and Job Seekers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

About Blind or Visually Impaired Workers and the Corporate World

About Careers in Rehabilitation and Persons with Vision Loss

Low Vision
Personal Reflections

Traveling an Unfamiliar Route and Taking a Risk as a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Suppose you’ve graduated your orientation and mobility lessons and you’ve successfully mastered a handful of routes. You can get from home to work and back, to Starbucks and back (because let’s face it, this route is perhaps the most vital), to the gym and back, and to the grocery store and back. You and the cane have found your rhythm; shorelining, well, it’s practically a breeze; and bus travel now only gives you a smidge of anxiety. You’ve made great strides. But now the guys at the office invite you to a new restaurant in town. You’re determined to get there independently. Are you up for the challenge?

With the collection of orientation and mobility tools and skills under your belt—but please, if you haven’t received proper training in travel skills for those who are blind or visually impaired, start there and this time hire an uber—it’s time to create a plan (and just as important, a backup plan) and take a measured risk.

Don’t let fear rob you of an independent life.

I know this can be overwhelming. It’s why I want to share former CareerConnect program manager, Joe Strechay’s words as he reflected on tackling an unfamiliar route despite the uncertainties.

Read "Push Your Limits and Take Measured Risks." Know that all travelers who are blind or significantly visually impaired have to make a decision as to whether they will push themselves past their comfort levels…time and again.

Additional Resources

Why Should Blind or Visually Impaired Individuals Practice Orientation and Mobility Skills?

Community Travel Skills—a Predictor of Workplace Success for Individuals Who Are Blind

Find a Local Orientation and Mobility Service Provider

Getting Around
Low Vision
Planning for the Future

Job Applications Inquiring About a Driver’s License? Discriminatory—Here’s Why

"Hello ma’am, are you hiring," one can ask relentlessly around town; 'Job opening in _______ field' one can type in the search bar and scour the web with more intensity than a private detective. When determined to find a position, the hunt is on for an assortment of job applications in hard copy and electronic format. As we then fill out form after form after form, it’s easy to spot similarities—one of which is, "Do you have reliable transportation," or worse, "Do you have a valid driver’s license," even when driving is not an essential job function. While the former is arguably tolerable, the latter is arguably discriminatory. It’s a lose-lose for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

If yes is checked—well, that’s not completely honest, and you’ll have to backtrack, likely leaving the employer uneasy.

If no is checked—well, the application is likely to be dismissed before an explanation is read.

On the apparent grounds of searching for a reliable employee, the employer has discounted a (let’s assume) reliable, fully qualified candidate who doesn’t have a driver’s license because of a visual impairment. (Yes, the definition of employment discrimination.)

This is truly frustrating and very often impeding.

Learn former CareerConnect program manager, Joe Strechay’s, thoughts on the matter and hear how he addressed the issue with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in the blog post "Attention, Employers—This Is Employment Discrimination: Do you have a driver's license?"

So, what are your thoughts on the matter and how do you address the issue? We’d love to know.

Additional Resources

Equal Employment Opportunity Is the Law

Coverage of Age Discrimination and Disability Discrimination Laws

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) from Job Seekers and Employees Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Low Vision
Planning for the Future