The Fear of the Foreign: Addressing Unspoken Concerns of Hiring Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

I am sitting on the Shinkansen, or bullet train, for a three-and-a-half-hour journey from Tokyo to Misawa after a three-month stint in America. I’ve lived in Japan for two years, and after a mere three months away, I am surprisingly experiencing culture shock once again as I travel home (very jet-lagged, but that’s off topic). Across the front screen of the train, kanji characters are scrolling by, which I assume announce each stop. I don’t read kanji. It’s unfamiliar and my lack of knowledge of the writing system puts me on edge. Will I miss my stop?

Other questions running through my mind as I settle back to Japan: When I ask culture-related questions, am I insulting Japanese persons? How different are we? How can we relate?

I cannot tell you how helpful it would be to me if a local Japanese person broke the ice and told me about her culture. I want to hear similarities and differences. I want to hear that my questions are welcome (if in fact they are welcome).

Blindness and visual impairment are foreign concepts to the vast majority of potential employers. Talking about medical conditions makes folks uneasy. An employer may not know how to relate to you, and employers have many safety- and job-related questions running through their minds. Before interviewing for a potential position, prepare to address the employer’s concerns.

Your employer (current or potential) wants to know:

  • What can you see? Do you have any usable vision? Provide a quick example of what you see. Don’t go into detail about your specific visual impairment.
  • How will you accomplish work-related tasks? Provide specific examples of accommodations.
  • What, if any, assistive technologies will we need to purchase? How much will it cost? Consider briefly demonstrating technology or showing a picture of your assistive technology. Let the employer know you will use any technology you already own. The fact is that vocational rehabilitation can assist in the purchase of this technology for registered consumers.
  • Will you be safe in the work environment? Explain the benefit of using a cane and receiving orientation and mobility training at the job site.
  • Can you perform efficiently and provide a high-quality service or product? Provide an example of your quality product or portfolio, provide data showcasing your accomplishments, and let the potential employer know of any job-related awards you have earned.
  • Do you have reliable transportation? Casually mention how you arrived at the interview.
  • Will questions or word choices offend you? Let the potential employer know if visual impairment-related questions are permissible and use words such as “look” and “see” so that she or he is comfortable doing the same.

Know that a potential employer likely has no experience working with an individual who has limited or no vision. To him or her, visual impairment is a foreign concept. As a blind or visually impaired person, it is in your best interest to break the ice and introduce your potential employer to your abilities. Anticipate any question the employer may have and provide clear, simple, and direct responses. Provide examples, state how you arrived at the interview, and allow the potential employer to see your confidence and competence.

If you are an employer hiring an individual with a visual impairment, please visit the American Foundation for the Blind’s Employer Resources.

If you are a job-seeking individual who is blind or visually impaired, please visit CareerConnect’s Getting Hired section.

If you are a teacher or professional working with youth who have visual impairments, please visit CareerConnect’s job interview lesson plan for more resources on the topic.

Employers can also access information for themselves through the Resources for Employers Section of AFB’s website.