By Dick Davis, Associate Director, BLIND, Inc. and
Chair, National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee
Information for Everyone
Lots of people ask me what kinds of jobs blind people can do. The assumption is that there are jobs for which blind people, because of their unique characteristics and limitations, are particularly suited. If you have that assumption, I’m sorry to disappoint you. It just isn’t true! The truth is even more interesting.
Blind people are normal people who lack eyesight. A middle manager who loses his or her sight still retains all the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired over a lifetime of work. Those include analytical skills, motivational skills, and the ability to set and implement goals. What has changed is that they can’t use visual skills to do those things anymore.
Even if an individual has remaining vision (see What is Blindness), it will be usable in some instances only, as legal blindness is 10% or less of normal eyesight. So what’s a person to do? The most important thing is to learn alternative ways of doing things using nonvisual skills. Teaching those skills, along with rebuilding self-confidence and self-esteem, and letting people know the truth about blindness, is what we do at BLIND, Inc. You can find out more about it by looking at the other sections of our website.
Some legally blind people think that magnification is the answer to their problems. It can be a valuable tool, but the question is always how well it works. If you’re a blind person using magnifiers, can you use them well enough to get the job done as fast as the average sighted person? If not, consider adding nonvisual techniques to your toolbox. If you’re an employer, consider giving an employee who’s losing his or her eyesight a leave of absence to pursue training. You’ll keep a valuable person, and the time investment will be relatively small.
Okay, enough about training. You came to this site to find out what jobs blind people can actually do, didn’t you? Well, here goes:
There are attorneys, paralegals, semi-truck unloaders, social workers, activity aides in nursing homes, Certified Nursing Assistants, owner/manager of transitional homes for substance abusers, city outreach worker, youth worker at a homeless shelter, financial planners and money managers, public and private school teachers, information technology managers and workers, personal trainers, massage therapists, occupational therapy assistants, customer service representatives, restaurant cooks, salad preparers, and dish macfhine operators. There are also nonprofit and government executive directors, photographers, artists and sculptors, fast food managers and workers, politicians, maintenance workers and janitors, dog walkers, chemistry and biology professors, woodworkers, small business owners, government workers of all kinds, job headhunters and trainers, pharmacists, nurses, doctors, rehabilitation counselors, college professors and instructors, factory workers, magicians, musicians, actors, and other performers, and even criminals (some who are currently behind bars, and therefore also prisoners). We don’t recommend these last two occupations.
Ready to stop and take a breath? I came up with this list off the top of my head in less than ten minutes, and kept going back and adding to it as I thought of more. It may interest you to know that I know at least one or more people in each of these occupations. And there are many, many blind workers in jobs I don’t know about yet. But are there bus or taxi operators, you may ask? Not yet, as driverless technology hasn’t gotten that far, but it may happen in the future.
So if you are losing your sight, or know someone who is, what can you conclude? You can conclude that blindness is not the limiting factor that most people think it is, and that the real reasons for choosing an occupation have more to do with interests, skills, talents, personality, and experience than anything else. In other words, figure out what you would like to do, and we’ll help you find a way to do it. Keep in mind that we’re in the skills business, so that’s what we do. Hope to see you soon.
Information for Employers and Blind Jobseekers
If you’re an employer, you may believe that blind people are slower, more prone to accidents, need more help, require expensive adaptations, and are simply less competent than sighted people. None of this is true; they’re just old fashioned ideas that have been carried forward over the years. Remember when African-Americans were considered
genetically inferior and women were regarded as
the weaker sex? Most of the ideas about blind people are equally ridiculous.
So what can you as an employer do to consider blind people fairly? First of all, remember that you’re dealing with a prospective employee, so do your usual good job of interviewing. Ask the same questions you ask of everyone else. Make sure to give a detailed description of the job tasks and answer any questions the blind jobseeker may have.
Then ask the blind jobseeker what methods he or she would use to do the tasks. In fact, ask everyone, not just blind people, what methods they would use. Not only will that give you more information about a person’s analytical and problem-solving skills, asking the same questions to all job applicants, blind and sighted, avoids the possibility of complaints under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
Is the ADA a help with, or a hindrance to, clear communication during the job interview? I think sometimes it can be a hindrance, because technically, employers cannot ask about reasonable accommodations until they have made a conditional job offer, based on ability to find reasonable accommodations that will allow a blind person to do the job. People being people, some employers don’t want to hurt a blind person by making a job offer and then having to withdraw it. So they think it is kinder not to offer it at all.
If you’re a blind jobseeker, the best thing you can do is recognize that employers cannot ask disability-related questions during a job interview, except for this one:
Are you able to do this job, with or without reasonable accommodations? It’s kind of a no-brainer: if you answer
no the interview and the job come to an end. So you answer
yes, of course. But is that really fair to both parties, assuming both are trying to decide if the job is a good fit?
So, blind jobseeker, you need to volunteer information about your blindness, ask detailed questions, and give the employer some ideas about the reasonable accommodations you may need. And for those of you who don’t know what a “reasonable accommodation” is, it’s just a modification that the employer makes, whether in terms of technology, methods used, or the way the job is done, to make it possible for a blind person to do the job in a competitive manner. It levels the playing field, and gives the blind employee an opportunity to fairly compete.
One of the things I do in my spare time is work as an expert witness in discrimination cases. I can tell you that employers lose those cases when they don’t engage in a dialogue with a prospective blind employee about the kinds of reasonable accommodations the individual will need to do the job. So do that dialogue, and it will help both parties.
What things are not reasonable accommodations? Waiting on blind employees hand and foot! I know of instances where guide dog users had sighted coworkers relieve their dogs over break because they didn’t want to go out in the rain, get their coffee, and run errands for them. They eventually lost their jobs. Everyone needs to pull their own weight and take care of their own personal needs.
But that’s the exception, not the norm! If you’re an employer, you’ll find that blind people make excellent employees. They tend, in general, to be better organized, more skilled at working with and through others, more creative, tougher and less prone to give up, and more likely to appreciate the job. That’s because dealing successfully with blindness builds skills that other employees don’t have.
I could write a lot more about this subject, but I’ll stop before this short presentation becomes a manual. If you want more information on the above, or want to consider capable blind people for your job vacancy, please call us at 612-872-0100 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.