Dear AccessWorld readers,
This month, I, Aaron Preece, have the privilege of writing the Editor's Page. October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, and AccessWorld is once again taking this opportunity to focus on employment with articles that provide strategies, insider perspectives, and information about employment resources.
The effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
I would like to reiterate the thoughts of Joe Strechay, former AFB CareerConnect Program Manager, regarding employment for those with vision loss. His words are insightful and should be of interest to anyone who is seeking employment.
Having traveled extensively around the United States and met with professionals, job seekers, teenagers, and adults who are blind or visually impaired, I have had the opportunity to learn about employment issues from all sides.
In that vein, I am often asked the question, "What is the major factor affecting whether or not a person with vision loss is or is not employed?" Too often, I feel, people want to highlight a single reason as the major cause for the differential between being employed or being unemployed. Instead of offering one reason, I assert that the underlying factor is that there is such inconsistency around the United States in the training and preparation of people with vision loss from an early age through adulthood.
Neither public nor private services are created equally, and for that matter, no government or private entity offers those services in the same manner. This issue is larger than just vocational rehabilitation. It includes preparation in schools, nonprofits, various state agencies and services, and other important variables, including family involvement. There are a lot of fantastic programs and services available, but any given region may be strong in one service and lacking in another. I know this is obvious, but it needs to be said openly: our field needs to address our weaknesses and diligently work to make improvements.
Each job seeker with vision loss has his or her own challenges. Unfortunately, I still see a level of learned helplessness among young people with disabilities, even among the brightest. Learned helplessness refers to an individual being taught that things will be done for them, which allows them to not attempt to initiate or do things on their own.
This type of thinking sometimes extends to the perception of job seekers that vocational rehabilitation is designed to find them jobs, but that is not its purpose. Vocational rehabilitation specialists definitely can help and guide, but they are not job placement professionals. Job placement is an art; it is a mix of sales, community relations, and having a well-defined pool of applicants.
Job seekers battle the perceptions of employers about vision loss and their own perceptions about navigating the employment process. At the same time, the technology divide between those who have appropriate access and mainstream technology and those who have orientation and mobility training, and those who do not, is apparent. Those with O&M training and technology skills have a better chance at finding, obtaining, and maintaining successful employment. In addition, job seekers are all individuals with strengths, skills, and weaknesses. All individuals have limitations, and not every job seeker is going to be—or wants to be—a computer programmer, accountant, teacher, mechanic, or maintenance worker. But most people do want to be productive and employed citizens.
I encourage everyone with vision loss to pursue every avenue of education and training possible. I encourage you to embrace and learn to skillfully use technology. Ultimately, it is your life and your career, and you are responsible for it. Take action! By working hard, obtaining education and skills, and seeking out and using resources available to you, you can find the job that's meant for you!
If you are interested in reading more of Joe's insight, see his article regarding vocational rehabilitation in the October 2017 issue of AccessWorld. Also, remember that we are increasingly publishing employment-related content in other AccessWorld issues. The most prominent is our Employment Matters series, which profiles various individuals with visual impairments who are successfully and meaningfully employed. You can find the latest article in this issue.
We hope that you find this issue helpful on your employment journey and are always interested in your questions and comments. Your feedback is not only helpful and thought provoking to us, but to other AccessWorld readers as well.
Managing Editor, AccessWorld
American Foundation for the Blind