Tag: white cane

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.


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).

[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]

White Cane Warrior

Kids can be hard to keep entertained on long summer holiday drives. Some parents resort to telling exaggerated stories of daring-do from their youth. It’s marginally better than I Spy or punch buggy (which consists of punching someone when you see a Volkswagen beetle).
One such story popped into my head as we stopped at the dog sitting on the tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai  on our way to Melbourne recently. And I couldn’t resist re-telling it.
Part of my youth was spent as an activist in the disability movement, travelling around the country to various meetings and conferences. On one of these occasions, I was travelling back to Sydney from Wagga Wagga in a car full of my mates, and our various mobility aids – a couple of wheelchairs, a walking stick, and my own white cane. We decided – as you do – to stop for a hamburger at the dog on the tucker box café. (Please imagine at this point loud tuneless renditions of “the dog sat on the tucker box, and the protesting groans of eleven-year-olds).
We had found a table and ordered our hamburgers and milkshakes when a group of bikies arrived. Now, these weren’t bikers – that gruff, rugged bunch who look tough in their leathers and helmets, but underneath are just your average suburban boys with the need to bleed off a bit of extra testosterone. These were bikies – the sort who live outside the law, and communicate with grunts and rattles of the chains they wear around their necks. And their idea of fun that day was to harass the young woman managing the tucker box hamburger joint.
Now in those days I was a fighter for equality on the front line, not using the more conservative legal tools that I use today. And I was offended by the crass and sexist behaviour they were demonstrating. Their lewd suggestive comments, urged on by the support of their mates, were causing her a lot of discomfort.
But what could I do – one bloke with an aluminium white cane, whose pecs needed a lot more work, up against half a dozen tattooed gym-junkies with chains at the ready. So, I came up with a cunning plan.
They had parked their machines on either side of our car. So, borrowing the car keys from my mate in the wheelchair, I proceeded to walk to the car, white cane prominently on display, in full view of the marauding horde.
I tapped my way to the driver’s door, got in, started the engine and revved it a couple of times.
Balancing the opportunity to have some fun at the expense of the female hamburger operative, against the potential terminal damage to their prized modes of transport from my driving, the retreat was prompt and absolute. I’ve never known a group of motor bikes to leave more burned rubber in the car park of a hamburger joint.

Which just goes to show that brains can sometimes outwit brawn, and disability can have some advantages. At least, that’s the way I told the story to my kids.
Have you had to put up with a parent who thinks he tells a good yarn? Was I being brave or foolish? Tell me what you think.
Graeme Innes is Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and an inveterate story-teller. He has kissed the Blarney stone and is prone on the odd occasion to leaven his stories with a small amount of exaggeration. An earlier version of this article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.