“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet, at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” —Jacob Riis (1849-1914)
This quote is displayed in the San Antonio Spurs dressing room. Down here in South Texas, the head coach, Gregg Popovich, is known for his "pounding the rock" mindset and culture he created in the Spurs locker room. It is not Popovich’s quote though. It comes from a book he read during the 1990s. The quote belongs to Jacob Riis, a staunch proponent of immigration rights and decent living conditions in New York during the late 1800s.
I reference this quote because the blind and visually impaired community continues facing a significant hurdle. A majority of blind and visually impaired job seekers are unemployed or not in the labor force, even in this day of advanced technology and favorable legislation.
Naturally, the question is "why?" If I tried to tackle all the elements of "why," I could write enough posts to fill a month. Instead, I would like to promote mutual cooperation from our community with employers, especially hiring managers.
In my view, unemployment is the rock, and we all need to pound it. Breaking the rock would signify major progress in lowering that unemployment rate. Here we go!
Conquering Unemployment for Visually Impaired Job Seekers
The unemployment rate for blind and visually impaired job seekers appears unchanged. However, while success is not arriving in mass quantities, blind and visually impaired individuals are achieving success in spite of the misconceptions and skepticism in the workplace.
A statistic is a snapshot in time. But, you may feel hopeless when you are one of those stats. It is not your destiny though. It does not define who you are or what you will be. Take hold of your hammer and pound the rock!
1. Complete All the Training Available to You.
Lots of local services are available where you live. State agencies and nonprofit organizations can help you with independent living skills, vocational rehabilitation, education, and job readiness.
Mastering the skills to live and work independently will set you up for success. Like getting a bigger, better hammer!
2. Help Others Pound the Rock
When you find employment, celebrate your success by helping others achieve it too. Consider becoming a CareerConnect mentor. Find ways to share your success with others. Volunteer or give a testimonial with the agency or nonprofit who helped you.
3. Work Your Way Up
In the article, "Meet Kirk Adams, the New President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind," Mr. Adams alluded to blind and visually impaired job seekers being prepared for leadership roles across many sectors. I agree. It follows in the philosophy of pounding the rock.
Even though we may break our own rock, we ought to keep pounding on it on behalf of our entire community. Hence, becoming a leader in your field could bring about the breaking of countless rocks.
Employers, You Can Help Too
I know that lots of companies promote their diversity and inclusivity initiatives. Grants research requires me to read through corporate webpages fairly often. It is fantastic when they talk about its diversity and inclusivity, but, does that word trickle down to all corporate levels? Specifically, do hiring managers understand what to anticipate when a blind or visually impaired job seeker appears for an interview?
In order to break the rock of unemployment, we need employers to be open minded and knowledgeable about the issues and various adaptations or accommodations used by blind and visually impaired workers.
1. Expand Your Knowledge of the Issue
This one is easy. If you are an employer/hiring manager who seeks to learn more about the issue, visit the For Employers section of the American Foundation for the Blind’s website. It is a one stop shop for learning all you need to know about hiring and working with blind and visually impaired job seekers.
2. Pave the Way to Success
Take the next step when promoting your diversity and inclusivity initiatives. Refer to reasonable accommodations in your recruiting materials, webpages, job announcements, etc. Progressive human resources departments ought to be aware of the most common accommodations used for blindness or visual impairments.
I came across this job announcement on another website. It is the first time I have ever read that the employer is open to providing reasonable accommodations in the job ad. This is the kind of ad which makes me, a blind individual, feel comfortable if I were to apply for the job. It tells me the staff is open minded and aware of such necessities. That is excellent!
Take your recruiting efforts to state agencies and nonprofits serving blind and visually impaired individuals. Actively seek talent to demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
3. Help Other Pound the Rock Too
When a blind or visually impaired worker becomes a success story at your company, share it, appropriately, of course. Learn from the experience and become an advocate. Consider giving a testimonial about the hiring process, the reasonable accommodations, and the level of performance the employee achieved. Find a way to spread the good word about great experiences. Sharing success stories with other employers or hiring managers helps extinguish the skepticism and misconceptions employers may harbor about workers who are blind or visually impaired.
Allow Me to Summarize
Unemployment is a major challenge. Despite advances in technology and disability rights, the unemployment rate is unacceptably high.
Those of us who are blind or visually impaired must stay committed to the process of job seeking, continually sharpening our skills to navigate and contribute to the cause.
Employers must continue their commitment to diversity and inclusivity in their workforce, but go the extra mile to become knowledgeable about this problem.
We cannot do this without the teachers, counselors, and other professionals who work with us. If we all, as a team, continue pounding away at the unemployment rock, eventually it will split open.