The New York Times recently published an article entitle The Price of Disability Denial. In this article, Catherine Kudlick discusses her visual impairment and what she felt was discrimination in hiring practices. It is a well written article, but I do disagree with her on some key points.
Denial of Disability Hurts Us All
First, it is definitely true that denying disability, especially physical disability, can have serious consequences. The blind community is full of stories of people who have been either forced or strongly advised to use all of their remaining vision when things could be done more efficiently using “alternative techniques as the skills of blindness are usually called. These alternative techniques would include anything from using screen readers to read the computer screen to avoid eye strain or using a cane even with some vision to make traveling easier, particularly at night. I am not the best person to speak on this topic since I am a “total” (meaning I have no vision) so I won’t pretend to know what it is like to be stuck between the sighted and the blind world, but I can say with confidence that there are a ton of people hiding vision loss. I hope he publication of this article and even the writing of my post will cause some of them to get help. Through a combination of training and technology, it is possible for a blind person of any age to be independent, or at east to not have blindness be the defining characteristic of a person’s life. Different people will achieve different levels of independence base on abilities just as different sighted people achieve varying levels of independence. Also no one is truly independent. We all need help from time to time. But it is possible for a blind person to function on their own in society. In order to do that, a blind person must be willing to accept the fact that they are blind and make the proper adjustment/learn the proper skills.
Discrimination Does Exist
Despite the progress that we have made, discrimination still exists. The unemployment rate for the blind is around 70 percent. While I am not sure how accurate that is simply because most blind people I know who are not working are not looking for work and/or are not prepared for work, I think it is safe to say the unemployment rate is well above the national average. I have never seen statistics on the unemployment rate of blind people with a college degree, but just getting a decent education can be a challenge. While the blind are entitled to an equal education legally, this often doesn’t happen due to a combination of low expectations and lack of resources. Prior to the 1970s, most blind people were educated in specialized schools, but this rarely happens now because of the school district’s mandate to provide services. This is a good thing generally, but I could write another entire article about the worries I have about the education of blind students as a result. I won’t do that here. Suffice it to say that even getting ready for college is a challenge, let alone getting through university. When I left college and was looking for a job, I was repeatedly told never to disclose my blindness on a rsume. It was assumed that if a company knew of my blindness, I would never have been called in for an interview. The thinking goes that if they realize you are blind when you get there, at least you will be able to prove yourself in the interview. While this works in theory, I’m not sure it works so well in practice. While I never faced outright discrimination, as in someone outright saying you can’t work here because your blind, I got that impression from more than one interview, and I suspect many blind people can say the same. Ironically, the company that eventually hired me and where I still work today knew of my blindness before the interview because of a friend that worked there. I am not sure what I will if I ever find myself back in the job market. On the one and I feel like disclosing blindness to get it on the table, but I know most people’s initial notions of what a blind person can do will mean that they reject me outright.
Having to Do More For a Job is Not Discrimination, It’s Reality
In the article, the author mentions her disgust at having to fulfill a requirement for her job interview that would not have been required of other applicants. Welcome to the real world, my friend. It is perfectly reasonable for your future employer to ask you perform duties of your job in a trial period, as long as you are still legitimately being considered for the position. obviously you have no way of really knowing if they are still considering you, but you must assume they are. is it fair? No, probably not, but life isn’t fair. Jobs don’t grow on trees, especially for blind people, and when we find someone willing to at least consider us we mus be willing to do all we can to showcase our ability. There is obviously a balance here, and I don’t claim to know where that balance is in every situation, but we must be willing to convince others we are capable given the stereotypes and in some cases legitimate concerns of employers. One of the unintended consequences of he ADA is that it stifles the conversation around disability so it becomes the elephant in the room. Candidates don’t want to bring it up, employers dare not ask about it, so people don’t get hired because of the awkwardness. As long as it is not obsessive and is within the bounds of normal job duties, we should be willing to do what is necessary to secure employment.
Disability is not to be hidden nor celebrated, but dealt with compassionately and with as much dignity as possible. This doesn’t mean that we are bitter o angry all the time or pretend that our disabilities do not exist or deny that they do shape a part of who we are. but thy are not all that we are. We need to admit them so we can seek help mitigating their challenges. We also need to work with society to create a place where as many disabled people as possible can be productive, employed citizens. This will help everyone disabled and nondisabld alike.