Finding a different way to achieve your dreams
Guest post by David Steinmetz, Arizona Industries for the Blind
When we are presented with an unfamiliar situation, we typically rely on our social and cultural norms, family values and past experiences to make sense of the situation. But what happens when our perception doesn’t match the expectation? For people who are blind, the outcome of the response generally leads to low expectations and soaring unemployment.
Per the American Foundation for the Blind there are an estimated 32 million adults living in the US who reported they either “have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, or that they are blind or unable to see at all.”
Statistics indicate that within this group only 30% of Americans are employed. Compare this to the general population, the Department of Labor reports that 96% of Americans are employed. Let me say that again… 30% vs. 96%. Why the disparity?
I believe the majority of the problem falls back to the perception (or misperception) of the abilities of people who are blind to fulfill the requirements of the job. Other barriers include accessibility to printed/electronic information and access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation.
I cannot tell you how many times I was turned down for jobs that I was clearly qualified for. After graduating college, I sent out hundreds of resumes, participated in telephone interviews and countless in-person interviews. The outcome was always the same “thank you, we will get back with you.” For me, this is a prime example where the hiring manager’s perception of blindness did not match my ability to do the job. It was obvious that my skills, knowledge, and abilities from previous work experience and recently obtained college degree got me in the door, but the interviewer could not see past the white cane.
I am now on a mission to “Change the Perception of Blindness: One Conversation at a Time.” I will often ask my audience to participate in a little awareness activity. First, I ask for everyone to close their eyes while I am speaking. I then ask them to think… are you still a husband/wife, a brother/sister, an executive or a member of a leadership team? Do you still have the skills, knowledge you gained from work, life, or college? Do you have goals, aspirations? Do you want more for yourself and your family? Just because you cannot see doesn’t take away who you are or what you want, it just means that life may look a little different and you have to find a different way to achieve your dreams.
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