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