Imagine you have just taken a seat for a job interview. Your skills and your training have led you to this moment. You’re confident. You’re ready for it.
When the interviewer asked you which reasonable accommodations will be necessary for you to perform your job responsibilities, you confidently explain what you need, including a screen reader, like JAWS, to do your computer work.
Then, instead of a long, uncomfortable pause, the interviewer says, "Great. Our entire information technology system is compatible with that screen reader software."
It may not seem like much, but that response would blow my mind, first, because it would tell me that the company is aware of making its information technology systems accessible to blind and visually impaired employees. Second, it tells me the company may be prioritizing disability employment, especially those employees with visual disabilities. It demonstrates a situation where the human resources department is aware of the existing IT system and its capabilities for accommodating screen reader software.
Yes. This is a hypothetical situation. This has never happened to me. But, I imagine if it did, or ever does happen, it would make me say, "Wow!" How about you?
I feel this would be a significant achievement for advancing disability employment. Among larger companies, most likely, there are some small successes in the area of disability employment, but what would it take to create widespread success?
Setting Yourself Up for Success: Employment Outcomes Under Your Control
First things first, let’s talk about the things under our own control.
- Vocational rehabilitation is a must. Learning to live and to work with low vision or blindness is vital to long-term success. Reinventing yourself to function with a visual impairment is challenging. However, the trials and the tribulations involved with such an undertaking can forge an iron will.
- Computer training is absolutely necessary these days. No doubt successful computer use relies on learning to use a screen magnification system or a screen reader system. These adaptive systems create the link to becoming proficient computer users, a necessity in the workplace.
- Remember, learning to travel independently is a must. Orientation and mobility training is super important. Whether you choose to use a white cane or a dog guide, become proficient in this skill to get where you need to go.
- Along the way, you must identify areas where you need to improve your soft and hard skills too. They can help advance your career path and further your long-term objectives.
Setting the Table for Job Success: The Employer’s Responsiblity
Now let’s talk about the things not under our control.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but most employers are not ready to hire people who are blind or visually impaired. By that I mean, the company’s IT systems may pose challenges to blind workers who need special software to use a computer.
I’ve run into this situation a time or two during my career. I speak from experience when I say it can become a very frustrating hurdle. Check out my post, Avoid a Rough Transition to Work to read about it.
If I could wave a magic wand or sprinkle some fairy dust over the situation, I would make every company’s IT compatible with screen magnification and screen reader systems. Thereby removing the barrier and eliminating frustration.
Until that day, I, we, must continue advocating for employers to recognize the needs of the blind worker. Especially, where access to a company’s IT system is concerned. Because the majority of work is completed on a computer, access through magnification or speech is important.
Now, let’s backtrack to the imaginary situation at the beginning of this post.
If you are a qualified job candidate who requires speech or magnification to use a computer, how good would you feel about your chances if the interviewer told you JAWS or ZoomText worked on their systems?
I would feel extremely positive. Also, it would show me that the company is serious about diversity and inclusivity in their workforce. Going the extra mile to ensure IT is accessible is an honorable achievement. Ensuring that a hiring manager is aware of the accommodation in the first place would be just as awesome. Dare I say, I would give all my best to work for a place like that!
At the end of the day, we are responsible for preparing ourselves to live and work with vision loss. But, imagine how sweet it could be if employers set the table for our success by building accessibility into company IT systems. A lot of work goes into making sure the external user or customer can interact with a company. How about pouring some of that effort into improving access internally?
It is possible. It may be happening here and there, but together, we must make more progress. Perhaps it is the key to improving disability employment outcomes among blind and visually impaired people.