Dear AccessWorld Readers,

Once again, it's National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which happens to coincide with Blindness Awareness Month. The statistics vary, but in almost all evaluations that I have personally seen, the employment rates of people who are blind or are visually impaired are shockingly low, even 31 years after the passage of the ADA. Employment is an area that we at AccessWorld, and AFB as a whole, care about deeply. When pondering the causes of the high unemployment rate among people who are blind, I have personally come to the following conclusions. The greatest barrier to employment of people who are blind or visually impaired remains the lack of knowledge among most employers regarding the capabilities of people who have vision loss. Thankfully, that seems to be changing. I believe I've discussed the excellent organization called Disability:IN before. They are an organization for employers interested in improving their access for people with disabilities, from hiring to long-term staff retention. I attended a couple of their conferences in the past and was heartened to see the number of major companies who actively want to employ people with disabilities.

This being said, I wonder how well we are preparing those who are blind or visually impaired for the specific intricacies of the job market. There are many organizations (including AFB) who strive to prepare young people with vision loss for their employment future, but I worry that many are being left behind. Not being involved in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired, I might not have all the information, but I would hope that learning the importance of employment and the various skills needed to successfully secure a job are being taught to students as part of their core curriculum.

I also can't personally stress how important I feel higher education is to successful employment. Not only does obtaining a higher degree allow you to qualify for more accessible job—it is much easier to compete with your sighted peers when the job is based on your brain versus your hand-eye coordination or speed in navigating complex environments—but it makes it easier to compete for jobs without these education requirements and also gives you easier access to internships that might lead to a job in the future.

When I first started working at AFB full time, my degree in History had nothing to do with my job, but in my job interview, I was able to confidently demonstrate my skills in my future job tasks since I'd been learning about and doing the same work as an intern. I wholeheartedly believe that the skills I obtained as an intern with AFB were what led them to hire me.

Outside of higher education, internships, even if they are unpaid, are extremely valuable for anyone, but especially people with vision loss. An internship allows you to learn the career you are pursuing directly but also shows your possible employer your capabilities and skills, allowing you to possibly avoid the barrier of an employer who does not understand the capabilities of someone with vision loss.

So what do you think? Do you agree with me? Disagree? If you are employed, what was your employment journey like? Do you have thoughts about the state of employment for people with visual impairments that you would like to share? We're always interested to receive your comments; you can always email me.

I'd also like to remind people of our Employment Matters series. The series includes profiles of dozens of people with vision loss who have been successful in their careers. In addition to discussing their employment journey, each interviewee describes the aspects that they think have lead them to their success. The first article in the series introduces Barry Scheur, a successful lawyer who has reinvented himself several times.

As always, I would like to thank you for being an AccessWorld reader and hope you enjoy this issue.


Aaron Preece

AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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