Do you know someone who is blind or otherwise physically disabled and employed? If you are like most people in the mainstream, the answer is probably no. That’s because among people who are blind or visually impaired, the unemployment rate still persists at about 70 percent even after many decades of trying to lower it.
During this October, we do celebrate the achievements of those who are disabled and gainfully employed while further emphasizing ways in which even more of us can contribute as part of the workforce. Here is a link from the United States Accessibility Board highlighting their efforts to raise awareness of ways public and private places of employment can ameliorate their facilities and overall atmosphere to welcome people who are physically disabled to their offices.
The question we must take up from time to time in observing National Disability Employment Month is whether the triad of buzz words-diversity, equity, and inclusion really better open paths for us to be employed or are they the latest and trendiest bark with little bite. If the latter is true, then what can we do to adapt small, midsize, and large businesses for employees who are blind, deaf, paraplegic, and so forth. After all, the push for a higher employment rate of people who have various disabilities has existed even before Title IX came into existence or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became public law.
Just a short listen to the way government employers and those in cahoots with them talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion of people who are physically disabled gives the impression that they want to win the bragging rights contest. No one, no matter how hard they try, can outspend the government on gaining accessible resources. No one can best the government in mandating the accommodations that public laws and enforcement of guidelines can provide. Like a well-oiled machine, this effort promises the perfect place for people with disabilities to work whether the setting be an assembly line at one of the National Industries for the Blind’s work centers or in a collections site for the Internal Revenue Service.
What happens to such claims when government imposes a hiring freeze upon itself or money allotted for a work site’s operation runs out? Our government must cut more than its losses. It changes the lives of people who staked their financial and often emotional livelihood on its claims to provide the way for personal independence. Schools such as World Services for the Blind, who served as a hub for training people who are blind for jobs with the IRS, must revise their employment tracks while rebranding their appeal to the disability community.
We can certainly be thankful for the United States’ government being a place for employment of us who are blind or have other disabilities. The pay is great along with a whole host of medical, life, and disability insurance benefits. An underlying assurance motivates those who want to work in the Federal sphere, namely, that as far as nondiscrimination clauses regarding physical disabilities, the Fed does police itself well. Lots of workshops and continuing education opportunities do allow for ways in which employees can learn ways of speaking to and on behalf of their coworkers who are physically disabled. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) provides avenues for people to negotiate disputes when filing grievances. Such measures have the goal of empowering someone wo is blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled to advance in his or her career path like anyone else working a cubical or office next door.
Again, we wonder how such government self-promotion affects the private sector workforce and overall society that isn’t aware of all that public rulings on employment state. One of the biggest costs is a reactionary dependence on big government. The saying may go something like: Since the Fed has the advantage of noncompetitive employment and standards for monitoring itself, then people who are blind should gravitate there instead of looking for entrepreneurial opportunities. Working in a store or office setting would need more adaptation that a company can’t necessarily afford, but the government can fork over the costs. Of course, this observation may be partially true, but the Department of Labor and Vocational Rehabilitation do have avenues whereby someone can get funding for pursuing a livelihood in the private sector thanks to loans and short-term job coaching that can provide someone scaffolding until he or she gets a business or salaried job established.
It’s easy, when looking for government assistance for financial support or for a government job to let the awareness gap to persist. Without the incentive to venture into the private sector, someone who is physically disabled or an advocate for us who are limits our ability to change people’s perceptions. The only way that a store manager, seminary dean, a bank manager, or tech supervisor will learn how we are capable of working well is through contact with us who want to join in their companies. Sure, public seminars, expositions featuring assistive technology, and heart-touching documentaries about heroing success stories can bring people in touch with our individual lives. But only personal and persistent relationship-building will further welcome us who are blind into areas where we haven’t so much trodden in our pursuit of happiness.
Of course, much more can be said in the matters addressed in this first look at the employment landscape during National Disability Employment Month. In our next part of this series, we will tackle a perception that many have, namely, that since disability income and benefits exist, that’s the best option for us who are blind or otherwise physically disabled to pursue instead of gainfully earning a living.