You know a dream is like a river
ever changing as it flows and the dreamers just a vessel
that must follow where it goes
trying to learn from what's behind you
and never knowing what's in store
makes each day a constant battle
just to stay between the shores
too many times we stand a side
and let the water slip a way
FROM ME: "I feel your response and know not what to say to heighten its clarity as one scenario. If these truths are so, what can we do to lessen and eliminate them?"
**2. "Boy, you sure picked a great time for this message. I have had a recent negative experience with employment, so I feel I am qualified to give some feedback on your thought-Provoker.
There are many reasons why blind people may be unemployed. Some of these aren't too complimentary. I certainly don't mean to offend anyone, but I think there are some realities here I need to address. Some blind persons may not have jobs because they are afraid. They fear that they may not be able to go into a job where "normal" people work and do an equally good job. Some people may be intimidated by the idea that they are working with sighted people. Some may fear their employers will resent them for having to make special accommodations for them because of their blindness. Some people are just lazy...its easier to live off the system than it is to go out and get a job. Then, there are those who probably work their buns off to get a job and aren't hired because of their blindness. I am sure there are blind people who are perfectly qualified to do a job but they aren't hired because discrimination is a reality we all face sometimes. These are all just guesses on my part, but I believe all of these scenarios apply to blind people in our world today.
I had a terrible experience with my first job that I had recently. I didn't ask the right questions when I was first hired and as a result, I wasn't properly prepared to work when the time came. I eventually had to quit my job because I felt I couldn't do the work that was expected of me. I will always regret that decision in a way, because it left my employers with a bad impression of blind people. However, there were positives that came out of that experience. I now have a different job at another company and I am going into this job much more prepared and emotionally aware than I was at my last job. I also feel a world of difference as far as my mental health goes...having a job can make you feel great about yourself if you put enough effort into it. My advice to those who are unemployed and who may be seeking a job is to not give up. For those who have had bad experiences, know that the greatest lessons in life are not taught, but learned."
Ryan Osentowski (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "Lessons learned! Yes, oh yes and sometimes the best of experiences and/or achievements hurt before it gets better, gets great!" What do they say, "No pain, no gain. And for the "why" many of us find ourselves starting from that position.....how do we or do others assist us to not have to come up that way?"
**3. A. "First, is this a dependable figure? People quote a lot of things that are not verified. And who is this joker, asking a question of these folks??? Grin. The obvious answer is the attitudes of the blind persons looking for work. If one wants to find work, it is there. But wait... not always. There are always determining factors and generalizing things is not my choice of analysis. Availability of transportation, job market and attitudes of the employers all factor into the equation. One would not generalize about certain races and their attitudes and employment status, why us?? I also have a problem with the lack of expectation and competition among the disabled. No goals or drive to out do someone else. Whew. Lots to talk about here."
B. "sure, put my name on it. I don't care. The working question. Hmmm. I can only anser for me, and that is hard enough. I feel unchallenged and bored by not working. To work is to put myself open to failure. But i love to work and of course, it is necessary. So, yes, I do want to work, but when it is so full of hassles and back stepping, I lose interest and get even more frustrated. There is the conundrum. It sometimes is more hassle to work than not. All things considered. School forever. A happy medium.
Perhaps if entering the work force was not such a big hassle..."
C. "I keep thinking of a pool of quicksand when I think of the workplace. I know it is silly, but the fear is still there, lurking in the shadows of my mind. I , too , had a negative experience in the workplace and would like to aboid another. That is a simple human reaction to a failure. Setbacks are always imminent when you are moving. But so is progress. Standing still is the worst of all . Maybe we all need a cattle prod!!!"
Pamela McVeigh (Herman, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "The NFB is one of the organizations saying that the 70%+ of blind people either being unemployed or under-employed is a reality. And as for there being circumstances out there in the employment environment which are deterrents to getting to work, you're right, its not always the blind guy's fault. And as for the size of the number (70+) you tell me, it is said to reflect the number of folks who say they want to work, do they?"
**4. "This thought provoker takes me back to an address Dr. Jernigan made during a general session at an annual convention. In that address, he said that we, as blind people, needed to rise above a minority mentality. While it is true that prevailing attitudes work to bar full participation in many areas of life including employment, we also hold ourselves back so long as we think of ourselves as a repressed group lacking the resources or tools to control our own destiny. We need to revise our self-concept to that of having arrived. We have the resources now to claim equality on every level. We need to see ourselves as capable of being full participants in society now even if statistics indicate that many of us are struggling. I recognize that changes need to take place in society but I also feel that we can do much by recognizing the need for change from within. With this in mind, I believe we will realize wider acceptance and greater opportunities."
Bob Deaton (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "I too read that address by Dr. Jernigan. I believe our communicating with our fellow federationist and friends is a small effort on our part to help bring about that change. Let us make sure we put forth our best in what we share (from the heart) and not be afraid to challenge what another may say. Thank you for bringing this to our forum"."
**5. "Wow! About 70 percent of blind people unemployed, or under employed? If the stats are that high, I would say that there are too many variables to cause such a rate. Your blindness and sharks for example. Too many blind people refuse to jump in the bigger water. Then there are those who do, but get disappointed when not accepted because of blindness. Some people are skilled in a trade, lose their sight, and can't seem to find a different trade that they would be happy at. Overall, I am sad to say that this is too close to your first thought provoker."
Gary Crane (Plattsmouth, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "Yes, they are related. But even if in some eyes it is the splitting of a hair, it is something we have to wear. But again, let us do get down into the specifics of this all but too important desire of ours to be able to say off to work we go."
**6. "Let me first tell you how much I really appreciated the "Blindness and Sharks" discussion!! Very interesting, indeed. Think you're doing a good thing here!
As for this second question on blindness and employment, here's my thoughts. Please do not print my name. Thanks.
I believe the 70% unemployment rate for blind people is due, in part to three things.
1. The lack of understanding or ignorance and stereo types of the sighted public/employers.
2. Unfortunately, blind people are all held up and viewed as examples of what/who a blind person is and what they can do. When one blind person gets a job (be it volunteer or pay) their performance is filed away and used to determine the opinion of other blind folks to come. This is not fair, but it happens. So, say that a blind person goes out and gets a job and is extremely successful. This makes the path much easier for the next blind person to come along and have a chance. If the blind person screws up big time and doesn't get the job done-shows up late, etc. then it hinders the chances of the next guy. This is unfortunate, as I believe people should all be judged on their own merit, but, we know it doesn't always happen that way.
3. Some blind people choose to sit at home and live off the government."
FROM ME: "Thank you for your three points. They cover things well, if we only look at the problem of it. Zeroing in on the "role model" part of it for a moment: Because the down-side of blindness is still to intimately connected with the characteristic of loss of sight, there are Still too many unenlightened people out there to the human ability to successfully live with blindness. So we have folks doing the "generalization thing" to all of us resulting in a view that we are all alike. And from that, what I do, what you do will effect how the next blind guy will be received. It rolls on from there, on and on..... But and so how do we break that cycle?"
B. "I think that cycle of all blind people being compared to one another, etc. can be broken when people begin to look at each individual for who he/she is. It's a dream, I know, but that's the only way I see."
**7. "The claim that 70% of blind persons are either unemployed or under-employed is either completely erroneous or unintelligible and/or maybe both. What may be correct and more helpful is the statement that 70% of blind persons are not in the workforce. That may be correct and offers the possibility of meaningful comparison with the situation of everyone in and out of the workforce. At any given time, approximately 33% of the population between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four are not in the workforce. There are many reasons for this, such as retirement, family rearing, education and training, rich, temporary illness, etc. These same factors will affect the blind also and leave about 37% who are not in the workforce for reasons related to blindness. I call this group "disemployed" rather than unemployed. They are not in the workforce because of discrimination, disincentive, discouragement, disability and disinclination. These are the things we can actually work on to alleviate the situation. There is no actual mechanism for determining the unemployment rate among the blind; at least, not one that is comparable with the one we always hear from the Employment Service. This figure is around 4.3% right now and that 70% for the blind sounds pretty horrendous by comparison. Unfortunately."B. "On March 13, 1998, President Clinton issued an Executive Order that created a Task Force on employment for disabled persons. It was composed mostly of cabinet level persons, chaired by the Secretary of Labor with the director of the President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities as vice-chair. It had all kinds of things to look into and make reports on a periodic basis, starting with November this year and ending around the end of 2002. One of its last duties was to devise some reliable method for tracking the unemployment rate for disabled persons. The whole executive order is printed in the ;May Monitor. But, the fact that the Taskforce was given this statistical responsibilities simply underlines the extreme difficulty in coming up; with reliable information in this area."
So says James Nyman (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "Thank you for this part of "the rest of the story."
**8. "i'm old and not working now. I did work for about sixty years, that was before I was old and blind. My counselor read me what you blind kids (I call anyone that under sixty) have wrote about your lives and work. I'm no psychologist, but I don't think setting a child up for life is any different for the blind kid as it is for the sighted kids. My daddy made us tow the line. He wipped us when we misbehaved and he and mother hugged us went we brought home good grades or got a skinned knee from a fall. They made us all work around the house, we took turns milking and hoeing, drawing water for the bath and all.
I had a younger brother who had bad eyesight and I don't know why he was, don't think they knew back then. He was treated like the rest of us. My parents didn't know any different how to treat him from us, they wipped and hugged him too. He was one of the two of us nine kids that went off to college. But he didn't get a chance to finish. He got killed crossing a street. He didn't have a cane, they didn't know any better back then. I'd tell parents to not take it easy on their kids, not any of them, but get smart about blindness."
I interviewed this individual, wrote what they said and asked if I could include their name and they answered "What is in a name, that's not the important point of my story. Robert L."
**9. "There is a lot to the unemployment, underemployment and disemployment of blind people. I think the solutions are numerous and require a little creativity on all of our parts. Advocacy for good health care is important. There is a percentage of blind people who cannot afford to loose government health insurance benefits without picking them up somewhere else. The good news is that many sighted folks also find themselves and their families in this bind. Part of a person's networking might need to be investigation of the health benefits available through an employer. I think some help is available through traditional government sources when people are working also. Not all education comes from college. If anyone needs a JOB application and some materials for job applicants, please call me or Robert. I would be delighted to get those to you.
Speaking of coffee in eating establishments, would a monthly meeting for job seekers or people with specific employment-related interests be helpful? They have JOB breakfasts at the NFB national convention. All we would need to do would be to pick a topic a month, publicise it, go to the designated place and network. Maybe some mentoring relationships could be started between people looking for jobs and another person who is currently working. We might even have speakers from different companies come talk to us about their employment opportunities. I think discussions like this at least get us all thinking in a positive vein of action. Let's face it: Whether we are blind or not, nobody is going to give us a job if we are not taking the incentive to look for one.
If you get wind of a job, e-mail it to anyone you know that might want to know about it."
Nancy Coffman (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "You gave us several considerations and/or actions which may lead to changing the status of the blind in employment, let's tick them off: 1. Looking into health options via the employer or the government to not allow this factor to be a deterrent to seeking and accepting a position. 2. Education concerning the filling out of applications and other needed materials and/or knowledge can be gained from friends and professionals. 3. Job breakfasts was another; good talk, good food, good support. 4. Discussion such as this. Peer counseling, another method for sharing important information and encouragement. 5. Finally your idea of passing on leads via E-Mail. Another fine and easy method or use of E-Mail. Thanks, Nancy a good start. How about the rest of you/us?"
**10. "well I gave it some thought, and I have a few things to respond with. I am not entirely sure about the 70% figure either, but even at 37% we have a lot of issues to think about. What society believes about us blind people is of course a part of the problem, and educating the public can help, but just who is suppose to do this. The state services are expected to do this, and we try to do as much as possible, but we all have a lot of other things that we are expected to do as well. These days we are being asked to do more of this sort of thing when it comes to employment issues, and I hope we can do more without hurting our other efforts to help our clients.
The leadership of the NFB is expected by all of us to educate the public, but you know I don't think that the folks in Baltimore have the time or the resources to spend talking to the employers here in Nebraska. This is where I am going to get into some trouble, but I think it's time we ask ourselves some tough questions. How many of those 37% of the blind that are unemployed are taking the time to individually or as a group contact employers to educate them about blindness or the good resource blind people can be to their companies as employees? I am always thankful that the NFB is there when it comes down to a fight for someone's rights, but the real purpose in having an organized army is to avoid going to war. And, it isn't just a matter of scaring the other side into not picking a fight, you need diplomacy, and that means building a relationship with the other side. In the same way we need to be getting to know the employers, and arranging for them to be gettingh to know us as well. You can't simply give somebody a call one time and tell them about the NFB and expect it to make a difference, we will have to build an on going system in every chapter to go out in teams to meet with employers as concerned members of our community seeking to help businesses and other organizations to find both new markets for their products and a good source of reliable effective employees. By the way, those of us that are working have a lot less time for this sort of effort, but we can make this same kind of effort with our own employer and the business contacts we have each day. If you believe that things need to change, then you have to be a part of making it happen.
The other tough question is about the choices we are making as blind people when it comes to setting our goals for employment. It seems like a lot of us are wanting to be counselors, computer technicians, or lawyers, all of which are perfectly fine professions, but why are so few of us choosing to become scientists, engineers, or medical technicians? As an organization, we have always said if you want to work, you have to go where the work is. Well what about all those other people looking for jobs in counseling, computer technology, and as lawyers, and how many companies are looking for scientists, engineers, and medical technicians?"
FROM ME: "People! Here are 3 quotes, a sentence from Jeff's comments, an NFB mission statement and/or slogan and an old time saying. 1. "If you believe that things need to change, then you have to be a part of making it happen." 2. "We are changing what it means to be blind." 3. "Seeing is believing." I find these concepts to be intimately related, not saying all that there is to be said on the topic, but what do you think?"
**11. "On the job situation, I have not thought much about it, I know I put in my time, quite a bit of conflict with the company I worked for, because of wanting upgrades. A guy has to keep trying to better himself, or you stay in a rut. I was successful in several cases, but lost a few also. Well that's all I have, so will get out of here."
: "And so it goes in life, for each of us, some getting a fair shake and some not. But bottomline you've got to give to get."
**12. "In reference to the matter of employment. The visually impaired seem to fair better in the employment field because of the easy access to aids for the vision that they still have. I have two daughters who are both visually impaired and one works at a bank where they have accommodations for her. The other works at an assembly plant part time and has recently opened a business of her own which she works at part time also. Because they have eyesight that they can use, they didn't have any problem becoming employed. We shall see if that is true as their eyesight continues to fail. Had either of them been totally blind, I do not think that they would have the jobs that they have. Not because they couldn't do them, but because they would not have been considered capable. We have seen that over and over with my husband. When the employer finds out that he is totally blind, they say, "We don't have anything for him at this time, but maybe sometime in the future. Don't bother to fill out and application, we will let you know when something comes up." It appears that the biggest problem we have encountered is people who do not have time to even discover what the blind can do for them. Our son is presently employed at a place that wouldn't hire my husband. Our son is visually impaired, my husband totally blind. That is the what we have found over and over. Education of society is still one of the biggest factors to overcome. When society as a whole treats the blind with the same respect as the sighted, then the blind will also have more confidence in getting a job.
: Give us your best on this special request, " How do we get the two together on this, the society in which we live in and the blind?"
**13. "I believe in some cases that there many blind people who don't want to become employed. They feel comfortable just sucking money off of the government, collecting their SSI check. People, this is the wrong thing to do. Everyone else gets out there and contributes to giving Uncle Sam our tax money, why shouldn't we."
: "Not saying the above comments mean only this, but does guilt play any part in this?"
**14. "I know why I haven't worked much. I am nervous about how it will come out. It bothers me to be doubted or treated like a baby or expected to be amazing. Mostly I am afraid I will not be successful. Trying new things I am not use to doing is stressful. Guess I have not done too many new things in my life. So I will admit, I am afraid to not make it. I can not take it to be put down."
FROM ME: "What does help us to build confidence to reach out and try new things. What is guts?"
**15. "I am a parent. What I read into many of the remarks in these Thought Provokers is a split between those who are risk takers and those who are not. In those who have a basic lack of bravery, a missing willingness to take risks, there must have been something that didn't happen in their informative years in the home and school causing this major character flaw.
The advise I give to any parent, especially to parents of a handicap child is learn about your child's potential. Go to groups who have that knowledge and make damn sure they have high expectations. This does take effort and risk on your part too. But What do you want to end up with?"
FROM ME: "Bravery, as this person speaks raises a thought in my head. Is bravery another one of those nature, nurture things? Second, do you all know what a self-fulfilling prophecy is? Third, might this be a prayer for the subject: "Dear mother, father, thank you for pushing me when you did, supporting me when I was weak, praising me when I was successful." And on the seeking out of groups who have knowledge and high expectations; Yes, Yes, Yes. We in the NFB have the Parents of Blind Children. Do it! Can you beat that?"
**16. "I have several comments about blind people and jobs though it has taken me awhile to respond to this query since it is more concrete than the "blindness and sharks" compilation which I really enjoyed!
I want to talk about what happens after a blind person is on the job, since I have held several jobs in my lifetime. The main concern seems to be reasonable accommodation. Employers and blind persons have different ideas as to just what reasonable "reasonable accommodation" is. In my case, I insisted on having the same opportunities to move around the facility as others. This was a problem only in that other employees tended to panic when I first came to the place of business. I talked at length with my superiors and in two separate employment settings, I was given the opportunity to create my own memo which was placed in each employee's mailbox. This worked excellently since they could refer to it again if they forgot or were confused. Also the memo was a good conversation opener. I also have insisted on equal access to information. In several jobs, I had someone available to read memos and other mail. At my latest job, I had voice-mail and someone was assigned to read the mail onto the message system. This was great since I could braille out any information I wanted to keep. Now that Windows 95 is current in many offices, blind persons can get memos through email with everyone else. I have always had access to equipment which was accessible to me. In a secretarial job, I used a standard IBM Selectrictypewriter. When I typed forms, we worked on a standard form, counting how many lines down, how many spaces over, and I filled items in. I also used an Optacon for a brief time. In later jobs, I have used a computer with JAWS (no, we're not back into "blindness and sharks") and I took notes in braille. I have used a complicated telephone which can be labeled if I don't remember all the functions other than number pad, however, I couldn't read the menu and if using certain key sequences didn't work, I occasionally asked for help from a supervisor. Having the phone hooked into the computer could solve that problem since I would have access to my screen reader. I know that other people have all kinds of ideas for alternative ways to do the same work. If anyone has questions and wants to talk to blind people working in their job of interest, they can call Job Opportunities for the Blind at our national office at: 1-800-736-5817. We can get all kinds of information there including a recorded bulletin.
There is also the issue of discrimination on the job. This can be frustrating and it is a good idea to talk in depth early on to deflect any later discrimination. Sometimes employers discriminate without realizing they are doing so and rely on us to "straighten them out" on these matters. We can always refer them to our agency or to JOB mentioned above. I have been severely discriminated against in some instances and in my last job, since I was treated extremely unfairly along with many others (one means of their perpetuating turnover) I opted to tell them my family came first and I was out of there, keeping my dignity and integrity intact. This is not that easy to do when you know your job will be gone and you have to get out there and beat the pavement again. Some people believe that once a blind person has a job, he or she had better keep it, after all we are lucky to have one. I believe that we have the same rights as sighted workers. If we like our job and want to stay and even if this means going to bat for ourselves, then we can do this. However, if circumstances change and we are better off not in a particular job, we do have the right to leave and find a new one. We are not stuck in a dead-end job simply because there are fewer jobs available to us. We can always work on making in-roads in a new situation. And yes, we can ask for a raise too, and put in for promotions and hopefully get them, if we are qualified.
One more thing. I can't imagine how a blind person could do any job without using braille. In one job, my employers didn't want me to take notes in braille since they had the age-old assumption that braille is slow and would slow my production level down. I argued that if the other employers were writing notes in print, it took no longer for me to write mine in braille, with a Braillewriter. We had a hassle on this one, but good memory that I have, I still preferred to take notes to give my customers more accurate and efficient service. I have heard that though the underemployment and/or unemployment rate of blind persons is 70%, of those on the job, 90% use Braille. Some blind persons who read large print who experience a lot of eye strain have benefited from using Braille also. Thanks for giving us this opportunity to participate again in one of your thought-provoking endeavors. This is fun--and educational!"
Laurie Meryfield (Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "Where else but from a peer can you get the benefit of the above quality of information? Also try JOB too at 1-800-638-7518."
**17. "Here are some hurdles that apply to all persons with disabilities and/or health issues.
Gaps in employment: I tried this one on an application that asked me to explain all gaps in employment; the guy had no sense of humor so I doubt that he got it though. :-) "I spent 6 months doing an in-depth quality assurance study of Abracadabra Hospital; the study was so successful I followed it with a 2 month similar study of Zydex Nursing Home."
On a more serious note, how do you explain to a potential employer or even a current one that although you missed three months of work in the past year for health issues that next year will not be a repeat.
Health insurance and other benefits: Employers do not like to accept employees that might be a considerable risk because the insurance companies that cover them don't like employers that might be a considerable risk. Working independently: Does not have the benefits of benefits, so to speak. The good old Social Security Administration and other government weirdoes. SSDI benefits are cut off completely and soon followed by Medicare if you make more than $500 per month, $1050 for blindness. (Explain that last little difference.) In general those who have disabilities are encouraged to not become part of the mainstream but to segregate themselves into a form of just existing, and probably end up in nursing homes, etc. I fought hard to get out of that quality assurance study mentioned in the first paragraph!"
Jim Merryfield (Omaha, Negraska, USA)
FROM ME: "That sounds grim, a catch 44 magnum. Can anyone out there counter any of the outcomes here? Is there a rule, program or mind-set being over looked? Are there somethings we just have to live with? When or ever and how do you bite the bullet?"
**18. "What a grand idea this discussion is! I found it fascinating to read everyone's comments. I would add only this--I am in the process of moving from one job to another. I left my first law job on June 5th. No, not because I could not do it or because they asked me to leave. It was just too much traveling, all around the country, and with 2 young children at home it was just not the right time in my life for this kind of a job. There were several awesome things which came out of the experience though. The first was that my employer said that if my new job did not work out, there would always be a job waiting there for me! The second was that I was able to land a new job before leaving the old one and the third was that I learned a whole lot in the process.
What I want to say is this, we must not be afraid to use our contacts. Sighted people say all the time, it is not what you know but who you know. The same holds true for us but we sometimes think it is a cop-out to go "Begging" to those we know and ask them to help us find a job. Hello! Reality check! How do we think sighted people do it? They knock on every door where there is someone they know. They say "Gee, I am looking for a job as a chemist. Do you know anyone who I could talk to?" I got my first job by going to a trial where this senior partner was representing the plaintiff. I went up to him at the break, introduced myself and told him how I came to be there, (his wife and I are old friends). I joined them for dinner afterwards and learned about the firm, their specialty, etc. I was very bold in talking about my experience, and how it fit so nicely into what they did. I followed up with a Christmas card, then a letter of inquiry, then a phone call, then a resume and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, you may think this is grovelling, but the bottom line is that they hired me and that job gave me the experience I needed to land my next job (which I also got by calling a friend and following the chain from there).
Finally, do not be afraid to start at the top. Yes, you may be sent down to the bottom again but you can still say, your president told me to talk to you and that is worth something. All of this takes incredible courage, and that is something which I certainly do not always feel. It is also not always successful but I do think that 1 phone call to a friend or acquaintance is worth at least 50 resumes or applications, just sent through the mail or dropped off at an office.
Christine Boone (Mechanicsburg, Pensylvania, USA)
FROM ME: "Like the lady says "Hello! Reality Check!" Have you read any of the top 10 books on job seeking? This could be a section from any of them; networking, selling yourself, seeking out the power people, etc. Assertiveness, smarts, blindness skills, positive attitude and who can stand in your way."
**19. "A forum to share information and experience is one way to make another's dreams come true."
FROM ME: "I like that."