You Start Monday

For anyone who is unemployed, the words “You start on Monday” are very powerful. For someone like me, who is blind or vision impaired, these words have an even greater significance.

I walked out of Sydney University and the College Of Law with a glint of triumph in my eye. I had the qualifications required to do what I had wanted to do since I was fourteen – be a lawyer.

I spent the next twelve months at about thirty interviews for jobs I did not get. This was because employers did not believe that a blind person could operate as a lawyer, no matter how much I told them that I could. I never heard those words I longed for.

These misconceptions or myths among employers are still very common. Research indicates that we are four times as likely to be unemployed as a person who can see.

I finally took a job as a clerical assistant, the lowest level in the NSW public service. Part of my work involved answering the phone, and telling people the winning lotto numbers. 12

You really need a law degree for that! I was made redundant by an answering machine.

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Today is International White Cane Day, a day to celebrate the independence of people who are blind or vision impaired.

One of the ways in which that independence is achieved and maintained is having a job. But with one-third to half of us out of work, that independence is harder to maintain.

Let’s bust some of those employer myths.

We can access the majority of documents and programs used in a workplace, including emails. We use software which reads content on a computer screen out loud, magnification software that enlarges text on the screen, or a braille display. The government’s Australian Employment Assistance fund pays for such technology.

While technology gives us the independence to read and write, training with a provider like Guide Dogs gives us the skills to find our way around a workplace safely on our own. Such training also allows us to travel safely to and from work.

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Employers have a duty of care to all employees to make the workplace safe. Simple things like ensuring hallways and pathways are obstacle free creates a safer workplace for all employees, including us.

We stay in jobs longer, take less sick leave, and make fewer workers compensation claims. Guide Dogs provides free work place appraisals to help employers to identify and provide solutions to potential risks and hazards.

We are very independent. Although we don’t drive, we use mobility aids like long canes or Guide Dogs.

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We catch public transport, taxis (which are often subsidised), or travel by foot using a talking GPS.

You may not be sure that we can do the job. Talk to us about any concerns you may have. We can work together to find solutions.

Your attitude is the key. I finally found someone who gave me a chance to be a lawyer, and it changed my life.

Graeme Innes is the spokesperson for Guide Dog NSW ACT’s “have cane am able to work” campaign being launched today, International White Cane day. He is Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and the Chair of the Attitude Australia Foundation.

(This article was originally published in the Australian Financial review).

[tags unemployed, blind, blind or vision impaired, sydney university, college of law, lawyer, employer, employers, guide dogs, guide dogs nsw, nsw public service, lotto, answering machine, international white cane day, white cane, bust some myths, myths, software, braille disclay, employment assistance fund, training, trainer, travel, duty of care, work place appraisals, sick leave, workers compensation, public transport, taxis, gps]

One thought on “You Start Monday

  1. This post I really love to have read and know all about it all too well. I’ve been trying to find employment now for almost 7 years but when I first left school I was on kidney dialysis which made the search for a job all the more difficult. Since having a kidney transplant It’s given me the opportunity to search for possible employment. And as you say it’s often the employers who are our road block. I had a week’s work experience in 2012 from Feb6-9 in a computer retailer the boss and my colleagues were happy to offer assistance where necessary but they felt that it was too dangerous for me to do any hands on work with computer components for fear of electrocution. It was 4 months later I had an interview for a possible job at The Telstra Business Center at 60 Read Street in Wangaratta which was above a sportsman’s warehouse. All went well and I had somebody come all the way from Melbourne who specialized in job assessments who happened to have the JAWS screenreader on a USB drive which he installed on the computers at this particular business and plans were made to have the software scripted to work with the corperation’s software. I made a phone call 4 days after this interview to ask about sourcing a work uniform only to be told that I’d been knocked back. The reason my employment case worker gave me was to do with accessing the bathroom I was told that to access the bathroom I would need to navigate a stor room full of obsticles and it wouldn’t be safe for me to work there for this reason. I was gobsmacked especially since I’d been all excited about my prospects for a job there. Luckily I had the Disability Advocasy and information service (DAIS) phone number in Albury Wadonga so I called them and told them of my complaint which they did their best to follow up. One Monday I had an interview with the advocate and the employer and I found out it was more than just the issue of the bathrooms. The issue was the screenreading software that it may be a privacy issue and the clients this business had weren’t just people off the street they were business people not even using headphones was suggested it was an outright no. I was discouraged from continuing to fight for this job as it would damage the integrity of the business man whose A name was Dale McPhan Then 2 years after joining the employment agency I started with then transitioning to the new agency which I am currently at I was taken off the books of this agency and had to wait to reapply after 6-8 weeks but was back on the books within a fortnight. Seems as though it’s a common thing for centerlink to not review a case after 2 years they just take you off the list.

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