Addressing typical concerns for potential employers considering hiring a person with a disability.
Unless they have done so in the past, employers may be unsure of hiring a person with visual impairment. Chances are that you will be the first person with a visual impairment your employer has interviewed or even met. It’s natural to be nervous about something you don’t understand or have no experience with. In the context of your professional relationships, your job is not to educate your potential employers, but to make them more comfortable about working with you. By law, employers can’t ask candidates about disabilities or impairments, but chances are that they will have concerns and questions. If you proactively address the areas that most employers have concerns about—and discuss your situation with tact, grace, and a positive spin—you increase your chances of getting hired.
There are three areas that should be considered when addressing an employer’s concerns about visual impairment. Those areas are: Liability, accessibility, and transportation.
Liability can be broken into two parts: 1) safety on the job, and 2) productivity.
Businesses are always concerned about any employee getting hurt on the job or causing conditions that might lead to someone else having an accident. In today’s world, employers must consider worker’s compensation, liability insurance, and lawsuits. Typically, employers who are uneducated about disability will assume that, if they should hire a person with a visual impairment, he or she will have a higher accident rate on the job. The truth is that persons with disabilities have no more accidents on the job than any other typical employee.
There will be employers who are not worried about such issues, but there will also be employers who are scared of you using the stairs. Employers who have safety concerns are not trying to be insensitive, they really just do not know the facts. Bringing up activities that you participate in such as sports, outdoor activities, working out, and such can help them get a more realistic perspective on safety issues.
Productivity concerns can be handled in many ways. Having good references and recommendations who are willing to express to an employer that you were able to complete past job duties can make a big difference. Having a potential employer speak with a former colleague or supervisor is sometimes the most efficient way to communicate your abilities and potential. It’s a good idea to talk openly about this with your references before you pass along their contact information to any potential employer. Make sure that your references are comfortable vouching for your ability and make sure they know you are okay with them discussing your performance with a potential employer and answering any questions about your visual impairment in the workplace. If you do not have prior work experience, then a club advisor, coach, volunteer supervisor, or someone besides friends and family who can vouch for your work abilities is a good substitute.
Some employers may believe that hiring a person with a visual impairment will be a liability because there will be a reduction in productivity. Maybe they think a person with a visual impairment would be a slower worker, or somehow wouldn’t feel accountable for the work that he or she does. The employer could think that a worker who is visually impaired would constantly need assistance from other employees. Of course this is not true, particularly with so many of today’s jobs being computer-based and therefore more accessible to persons with visual impairments. Technology decreases the limitations in the workplace and can help to overcome most obstacles, but often potential employers might not understand this. You may be able to address this concern by giving examples from your past work experience, or by talking about the ways in which you use technology to help you be productive.
Accessibility can mean all sorts of things to an employer. A common concern is how you will be able to acquire the information contained in written materials. Will they have to provide Braille versions? What do they have to do to make a computer system accessible to you? Will you need special equipment? It’s a good idea to explain to an employer that, if you have a scanner, you can access any hard copy print material as long as it’s typed, and that most electronic material is accessible to you via computer. These days the vast majority of office communication is via phone or e-mail anyway. If you have low vision then you can explain about your use of CCTV (closed circuit television), electronic magnifier, hand held magnifier, or screen magnifier. Screen reader users will want to explain how the software works in simple terms and can refer employers to web sites if need be. Braille should not be an issue because you should be able to convert your own documents if that is needed. There may be a need of an embosser or refreshable screen reader depending on your needs. You don’t need to go into detail about how the technology works—again, you are not trying to educate the employer—but you should talk about it in a way that demonstrates that you can join an established business workflow easily and with little disruption to your coworkers’ standard business practices.
Transportation is another area potential employers can have concerns about. Let them know that you regularly use the bus system, a car service, taxis, a private driver, trains, bikes, or good old footpower to get around. Mention how you got to the location on that day such as, “Oh, I took the bus here today and had time to stop to get a bottle of water in the lobby. It’s great that your building has those vending machines downstairs.” You want to ease their fears and show them that your transportation is not their concern.
Resources for Employers
An interview is a good opportunity to proactively ease these standard employer concerns. An interview can also be a good time to talk about the benefits of hiring a person with a disability—after all, persons with disabilities tend to be extremely reliable and loyal employees.
The For Employers section of AFB CareerConnect has information that employers may be interested in reviewing. When on a job interview, keep in mind that this is a resource you can recommend to them. It’s a resource available to you as well—review the For Employers section to familiarize yourself with the facts and topics covered there.