Article Explores Employers’ Wariness About Hiring Blind Jobseekers

Joe Strechay in the AFB New York office

Recently, I was interviewed by the Associated Press’ David Crary, who I think did a great job in writing the piece, Employers’ wariness thwarts many blind jobseekers. Disability employment issues don’t get a lot of coverage in the national press, despite being an important topic.

I spent a good amount of time on the phone with Mr. Crary and provided him with links to articles, blog posts, and the NIB study referenced in the article. That study hit me pretty hard, and I had blogged about the commentary from the Wall Street Journal.

When reading this article, I especially appreciated the story about the human resources specialist who lost her sight and then actually saw the light about her previous mistakes. She told of interviewing a blind man for a job at a manufacturing company, back in the 1980s, and being skeptical of his ability to do the job. I agree totally with her about preparing job seekers to sell themselves. I spend a lot of my time traveling around the United States and speaking to adults who are blind or visually impaired about that. I spend just as much time creating materials that can be utilized online with that type of information, too.

I am a strong believer in the elevator speech, which refers to the idea of having a short period of time, perhaps only the length an elevator ride, to pitch yourself. I think there is a science to this, and I speak about it all of the time. I think this is something that can be learned and practiced. It should be practiced, just like people practice any other skill.

I can sell myself with the best of the best. I practice this skill all of the time because it is not just an employment skill, it is a life skill. Every day, we have opportunities as people with disabilities to practice selling ourselves. I am speaking of the idea that we all are salespersons and our product is ourselves. We have to be able to talk about our strengths, skills, accomplishments, and our disability in practical terms, how we will do our work, and be comfortable speaking about it.

Employers will not be comfortable with our disability, unless we are comfortable speaking about it. First of all, employers cannot ask about our disability unless we disclose it. It doesn’t mean they will not ask, but we should be prepared to bring it up and address it with practical information. I strive to motivate young people who are blind or have low vision, and get them interested and creating action plans toward success. I ask young people and adults a lot of questions, and I want know they will show initiative. Work is not often handed to people; we have to work many hours to get the opportunities. If job seekers create an atmosphere of success, it will make life a lot easier.

We are living in an exciting time. I think employers are starting to embrace the diversity of hiring people with disabilities. Organizations such as the United States Business Leadership Network are helping to create opportunities for persons with disabilities. We are nowhere close to the end zone. I don’t even think we have crossed midfield truthfully, but we are starting to move the line of scrimmage in my view.

I really enjoyed Mr. Crary’s piece, and I felt it was one of the more accurate pieces about employment for persons who are blind or visually impaired that I have read of late. I am grateful that he included me and CareerConnect® in this piece. It is an important issue and we hope that sharing these stories will help chip away at the misperceptions out there about the capabilities of those of us with vision loss. Check out CareerConnect’s Our Stories and mentor search, and you’ll see that people who are blind or visually impaired can do just about anything!