THOUGHT PROVOKER 49
Have To Be Better
Last Updated May 09, 2004
"The job is going well! One thing that's new, I recently volunteered to lead a special project for the company." Marilyn said, going on to report additional specifics on her new assignment. She was two months into her new job. I am her Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and was there following up with her and her employer. From our first meetings, up through the development of her Individualized Plan for Employment and up through this placement, we had agreed that she would take the lead. My role would be to serve in support, bringing into play any and all of the Commission's resources when needed.
"Good! Sounds like a great opportunity for you. Have you gotten any more commendations from customers?" I asked. She was sounding relaxed, confident, not too stressed from all the challenges that come with a new job. She had it all--smarts to make an employer sit-up and take notice, good blindness skills, a positive life attitude, and a personality that customers appreciated.
"Yes, thank you for asking! Let me give you a short answer to that, then make a request, then Id better get back to work."
I readied my personal-data-assistant. I had another question I would like to ask too, but not today. It related to a statement she had made shortly after I had first met her. Maybe it was the lowered self-esteem anyone can get when they are out of work for awhile? She hadnt been the first I had known that felt the way she did, but the way she said it with such emphasis really made me think. The more I thought about what she had said, I wasnt sure if it was a positive or a negative. It was, "If you are blind, to be accepted and successful on the job you have to be better than your fellow workers."
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond
**1. By all means, no doubt about it, the answer to that question is YES. We have to be twice as good as everyone else, work twice as hard, never,
ever ask any questions about anything or for assistance with something
that anyone else out there is allowed to ask about. We have to give off
the impression that we're super human. That's what the concept of
keeping a perpetual positive attitude in life is all about. We aren't
allowed to show our feelings, especially if they're negative.
Now, I'm not saying this to be nasty or cynical. I'm just stating what I
feel is a fact. And, overall, it might not even be all that bad either.
It certainly makes us feel better about ourselves that we put so much
effort into everything we do. And the positive attitude thing works. I
personally feel better and stronger when I can sincerely laugh in, in
turn, make others out there laugh and feel good. And you know, I don't
even know, if this expectation of us having to be super human is
something the outside world expects of us or we expect of ourselves -
probably a little bit of both.
Patricia Hubschman (New York USA)
**2. Yes, I do feel that it is most assuredly true; we do have to be better than our sighted co workers, and with my job being the first legally blind Claims Authorizer at Social Security the pressure in my mind is enormous. They have a lot of blind Claims Reps, but no one else that is doing the work that I do and is legally blind. They have no idea how to handle things and this is a very long story in itself, I would like to say that I have excellent support of management and the union, and have given in a world of suggestions which I am hopeful they will implement.
Renee Zelickson (Huntsville, Alabama USA)
**3. I worked for many years in a stainless steel fabrication shop. I was
legally blind when I started working at the shop, with my vision slowly and
progressively getting worse. I became very good at my craft which was
forming piping and doing custom bending projects. I also ran overhead cranes and forklifts. For the ten years I worked at Douglass Brothers, I was always under scrutiny. No matter how good of a job I did, my peers would say the blind f___er did it. I had to work a lot harder to make sure I was worth keeping. I marked my time card to help me line it up to punch in. My peers would change the marks to foul me up which I complained about. As is traditional for Douglass Brothers, I had made to many waves and got laid off with a lame excuse which was, " You never get it in layoffs". Maine law gave me no recourse.
It is not imagination that the blind and visually impaired have to work
harder. It is not a self esteem problem. It is a society problem.
Carson Wood ( Maine USA)
**4. This is one of those statements that totally irritates me. Why?
Because I grew up hearing it. Every blasted day, hour and week, I
heard this. It was the attitude of parents of blind kids that was
drummed into our heads constantly. You have to be better than everyone else, you have to be the best, you have to be better... This
is a segregationist, separatist, kind of attitude. It says that only
the best out of the blind will be chosen by the sighted as being good enough, only the exceptional among us will be worthy. Only the Helen
Kellers, the Tom Sullivans, the Ray Charles's.
The problem with this thinking and the reason it is in error is that statistically, less than ten percent of all the blind are going to be
better than their fellow co-workers. Sometimes I feel like Salieri in
"Amadeus", at the end when he is absolving the crowd from its mediocrity!
I feel that there is nothing wrong with being average. Every single
sighted person on this earth is looked upon initially as being part of
the crowd, an average Joe. Nobody is expected to be superman. All
that is expected is that a sighted child do well in school and bring honor to his family. Not the blind because we have to be better than anyone else, we have to be higher, we have to separate ourselves and soar above everyone else. Funny, the opposite side of the coin is that we're worthless and we can't hold a decent job and we are only good enough for SSI or SSDI. After all, who would want to hire a blind person, they can't work. It's a very hard row to hoe, frankly! You're damned if you are super blink, and you're damned if you are average because that means that you are a worthless piece of garbage.
It took me years to get away from that and to quit being angry and frustrated. I finally came to the conclusion that I was just as good as everyone else, no better, no worse. I'm me, I like me, and to Hell with anyone who doesn't. It's their problem.
Ann K. Parsons (Rochester, New York USA)
FROM ME: What does it take to get to the point that you no longer feel you need to prove yourself; to yourself and/or to others?
**5. I think that many blind people feel pressured to prove themselves for fear of discrimination. Every time I start a new job, I get extremely anxious because of the fact people would discriminate against me and that I'm good enough.
Lisa (Mokena, Illinois USA)
**6. My experience as a totally blind individual is that one definitely must be better in many ways than sighted colleagues and/or friends. Some employers and coworkers hold to the philosophy that blind professionals will not be able to handle the workload as efficiently as a sighted employee. In my life, a new job is a time of testing by sighted peers who look at me as "different" and unless I can prove myself I will forever remain on the periphery of the workplace. There exist both fear and admiration in the workplace and I believe the question remains as to which will overtake the other. Further, I submit that the need to be "better" is temporary but a difficult period to get through.
Jo Taliaferro (Grand Rapids, MI USA)
FROM ME: This gentleman says this have to be better thing is only a phase, an initial one that must be worked through. How about this- What must happen during this first phase in order to make the transition happen to the next phase?
**7. I have believed this idea since I can remember. I think many people who're blind from birth also believe this. I don't know where we learned that we have to be the best in order to have an equal chance but it seems to
be engrained in human beings. I still work with this idea in mind. My work has to be as near to perfect as possible. I think I drive myself and my coworkers crazy. I wonder how many working blind persons feel the same way.
Joanne Wolfe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
FROM ME: So is this a reaction, this need to prove oneself a blindness thing, a disability thing, a minority thing, a human thing? What is at its roots? Can we rid ourselves of it? Is it a bad thing or a good thing, should we rid ourselves of it?
**8. I think people who are vi or blind do have to work harder to keep up with their sighted co-workers. I also think the same is true for life in
general like social situations for example. I am going into the teaching
field and I have been told by teachers who are vi that I will have to work
twice as hard to compete with sighted teachers.
I think this attitude makes me a stronger person knowing that I will have
to compete with sighted people knowing that I will have to work harder.
I hope this makes sense.
Lisa Ehlers (Lamoni, IA USA)
FROM ME: In part this lady says,
blind do have to work harder to keep up with their sighted co-workers
My question is- Do we have to be better at the job, like teaching in this case. Or is the extra work mean because of blindness we need to do some extra things to compete, like learn alternatives, find and learn adaptive equipment and things like this?
Second- she says,
I think this attitude makes me a stronger person knowing that I will have to compete with sighted people knowing that I will have to work harder
. How about this; true or false and why?
**9. I'm not blind, but I think that I've observed enough situations to have
some input here. As a somewhat petite, Hispanic-ish woman, I am often
having to "prove" myself in a variety of situations - physically, mentally,
emotionally. I'm not happy about that, since I know that I am strong,
intelligent, and a "thinking" type. I think anyone in a position to be
discriminated against knows that their flaws will be exaggerated by those
who want to prove their incompetence. Sometimes getting anxious about that just makes matters worse.
**10. Unfortunately, this is, at least for me, true. When I worked for the state of Oregon in the state library, I had been out of the work force for some
time, or at least working for myself. The library had had blind employees
before, so I assumed that they would think of me as competent. My computer
wasn't hooked up, so I proceeded to fix that. One of my co-workers came in
to find me under the desk connecting cables.
"What are you doing" he asked.
"I'm hooking up the computer," I responded, thinking it was an obvious thing to do.
"How can you do that? Our other blind employees didn't do things like that."
I told him I did, and let it go. Later, there was a party for new employees
"Do you need me to help you with the stairs?" he asked.
I told him I didn't, and he asked how I'd find the party which was in the
reference room on the second floor. I said I'd go to the second floor, and follow the noise.
All that is to say, that I found acceptance in doing things that either (1)
they didn't expect blind people to do, or (2) things that they didn't want
to do. I wrote policies and procedures. I got active in the union, and
took on the jobs of president of the local, and shop steward. I served on
safety committees, and in general, applied the kinds of skills I'd learned
as a part of the NFB and from running my own office.
I believe I worked harder than my colleagues who weren't blind. After a
while, I didn't do it because I wanted to be a part of the group, but
because I found I enjoyed it, and that I was good at it. Working harder is a
good opportunity to learn. I'm glad I did.
FROM ME: So sometimes we fight an up-hill battle because of the impression a previous blind person left. So how about it, how much should we as individuals be aware of the legacy we leave?
**11. This is Ron Brooks in Albuquerque. I think that whether a blind person has to be better than his/her equals in order to get the same consideration is situational. For instance, I think that when we're being considered for employment, we do have to excel, simply because most employers (if given the choice) are going to take the path of least resistance. This means that if an employer has two candidates with equal skills and experience, he/she will choose the one whom he/she believes will be the easiest to get into the job and into the flow of the agency. In other words, when a blind person begins his/her employment by having to beg the employer and/or the rehabilitation agency for workplace accommodations, figure out the transit to and from work, and by evoking (within
the employer) all sorts of questions of "how" and "what if," I think the employer will pick the non-disabled and apparently easy-to-hire alternative.
I realize that this isn't what the ADA says or we advocates often tout as the way things should be, but it's the way things often are in the real world.
On the other hand, I do not feel (as an existing employee within a good company) that I have to prove myself every single day. Sure, I do have to overcome obstacles which other employees don't. On the other hand, there are days when my work is good, and there are others when it's only passable. There are times when I've screwed up and been read the riot act by my boss. I've made big mistakes (which have nothing to do with blindness), and I've had to accept them, learn from them, and move on. In all these times, I've never felt like I was getting treated either better or worse than my sighted counterparts. Moreover, I'm still advancing within my company in terms of responsibilities and assignments, just like everyone else who works hard and tries to learn from success and failure alike.
So I think it's a mixed bag. I think that as blind people, we need to stop worrying about keeping up with the Jones's and just do our best every day.
Sometimes, that'll mean we're better than our sighted counterparts. On other days, we'll lag behind. In the long run, I suspect most of us will come
out about even. In some cases, we'll be the targets of discrimination (purposeful and otherwise), and on these occasions, we'll come out a little behind. In other (and I'd like to think most) cases, we'll get treated fairly, and we'll end up side-by-side with our sighted comrades.
Ron Brooks (Albuquerque, New Mexico USA)
FROM ME: What part do you see the state or private rehab services for the blind being responsible for in this case?
**12. WOW! THIS REALLY HIT HOME. BEING AN EMPLOYER AND BEING EMPLOYED BY A VERY LARGE CORPORATION IN A TOTALLY DIFFERENT ENVIORNMENT, I AM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO RESPONSES. I AM ENJOYING THIS SO MUCH.
**13. "If you are blind, to be accepted and successful on the job you have to be better than your fellow workers." I believe that this sentence is the actual meat of the Provoker. 'First of all, I believe that it is all of our jobs to try to be as good (competent) as we can, not just be equal to others. In
that case, the second part of the statement might be true. As the head of a section, who has hired and supervised employees, I want and expect that colleagues will consistently endeavor to improve their performance.
Having said that, I do believe that people who have disabilities may place themselves under more stress to perform or, at least to appear like they are
performing, better than non-disabled colleagues. I'm not so sure that others (non-disabled) really expect us to always perform better than others, especially when we consider that many people have thought that anyone who has a disability is less capable.
when I read this piece, I thought of the old joke that women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as capable as men. Thankfully, that isn't
difficult! Do you think that the same holds true for people who are blind?
Doug Hall (Daytona Beach, Florida USA)
**14. The first thing that comes to mind, when reading the subject of this
provoker, is that many blind people believe they *always* have to prove
something to sighted people. When that translates to the workplace, the
blind employee may feel that he/she must be better than sighted coworkers.
But, I believe, if we're qualified for the position, we can only work to our
fullest potential. If a blind person who is overly qualified for a position
still accepts it, just to be better than sighted employees and prove
something, he/she is not doing themselves any good, and, more than likely,
all the effort will go pretty much unnoticed. After all, we're striving to
be accepted on an equal basis with our sighted friends and neighbors; not to
stand out as "that super blind person". So, I believe a blind person who
wants to "be better" should really evaluate his/her own belief in themselves
as a blind person.
Cindy Handel (Willow Street, Pennsylvania USA
**15. I think that the idea that you have to be better than your sighted co-workers to succeed in any job is a myth. I have been successfully employed for twelve years and I don't think I'm any better than my co-workers. I work in the activities department of a nursing home and my co-workers and I all have areas
at which we shine. My specialty is music. Over the years, I have had co-workers who have been better at facilitating other activities such as crafts
projects and games than I have. I think that as a blind or visually impaired person, all you can do is your best.
Abbie Johnson (Sheridan, Wyoming, U.S.A. )
**16. This is definitely a provoking statement!! I have found the need to be better in some respects. I need to be better at planning ahead since doing things at the last minute usually spells disaster! What if a reader is not available or a driver is otherwise occupied. I need to be better organized. If not, I will spend valuable time searching for lost documents. I have to be an excellent communicator. If communication does not take place, I may not be able to do my job properly. I see many sighted people keep their jobs, even though my previously stated points were not their strengths. The problem is that I can't always recover as easily when problems strike. I also believe that my habits will pay off in the long run.
It is so important not to have a defensive attitude about being better. Otherwise, I would change the E to an I (bitter). Some blind people I have met, are so bitter about the thought of having to be well developed. It is too bad since those with age related challenges also have some of our same challenges.
Marcia Beare (Michigan USA)
**17. Good thought provoker. I can agree with half of the young lady's statement. Unfortunately for blind employees, we still live in a sighted world. I feel that I am totally qualified to do my job. I completed my course work for a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Counseling with a 4.0 G.P.A. Nonetheless, there are still facets of my job that I cannot do because of my inability to see. I feel that I have to scramble to find reliable drivers, consistent readers and often find myself putting things that I am capable of doing on hold, simply because I do not have direct access. I work for an agency that is very willing to accommodate my blindness, but still I struggle with day-to-day operations based solely on my blindness. For this reason, I agree with the statement that I have to work harder in order to be successful at my job. At least to be as successful as I feel I am capable of being.
As for the acceptance, I do not agree. I am accepted by my co-workers as part of the team. I believe that people come to me on occasion to assist them
with problems and answer questions. I do not feel that being accepted in a social situation is at all related to blindness. Let's face it. Work is a
social environment. We spend 8 to 10 hours with our co-workers and are constantly interacting with them about work related and non-work related issues.
One's ability to interact effectively and be accepted is strictly a matter of assertiveness and good social and problem-solving skills. Maybe I am naïve, but I do not believe that a person cannot be accepted simply because they are blind.
David Ondich (Texas USA)
FROM ME: Does not this one and the one before it answer my own question at the end of response eight?
**18. I definitely say yes we have to do better and be better if we are blind. I say we have to arrive early and stay late. In fact with transportation as it
is, we actually do have that happen *smile* I do not say this lightly that we have to be better in the work world. I have attempted throughout my life
to make it happen. My friends smilingly term me an anachronism because have worked with one company my entire job life. This occurrence is more unusual these days. Guess vocational counselors call it stable. Most people probably term it boring. Received my degree to teach English and could not find a school right away because my promised job did not pan out. Really wanted employment right away. In fact always wished to work and be of value. Being of value has always been my deepest hearts wish. Is that not a form of love to be of value to others?
I heard about transcription and was told could get a job with only a few months training required. I felt I really needed to work because not only had
I just finished college with four year degree which I was not using, I was married to someone who liked working less and less. In fact, as I became stronger, he became weaker and did less. Is that a trend ladies? Is that evocative of thought? I had planned to type doctors dictation only temporarily until I could find a school. After 26 years, it is still temporary. From the beginning I volunteered to work holidays and always requested overtime. When new technology would be available, sometimes as with self correcting typewriter-who remembers those-volunteered to learn on my own time because bosses were skeptical. All that has changed in the past ten years. Now I am first to get new equipment. I have seen many changes in technology, but my credo remains. I still volunteer for OT and holidays though we are in new location and closed many holidays. I am the only member of the group employed when I began. Of course working 12 and 14 hour days and working week-ends and holidays lessened the possibility of personal life, but I am one of those compulsive people and hate leaving tasks not completed. Now we are chronically behind because technology that is supposed to make performance more rapid has done the reverse. I
still feel that whatever we do we have to do it well. Unlike many of you, my life has not been glamorous, but it is far from over. The compulsive queen
always attempts to give 1,00%Some commend moderation; I have always said and lived by my words, if it feels good and works well, do it to death, the job, the workout and above all, the love. Even now we are fighting stereotypes and no one can convince me otherwise. We show the world daily we not only do as they do, but do it better.
Dinky (Jacksonville, Florida USA)
FROM ME: This lady mentions that we are still fighting stereo types. So Im wondering
several people thus far in this PROVOKER speak of getting to work earlier and staying late and having to work harder than their co-workers, might this be a stereo type of sorts? And/or, with the majority of respondents thus far expressing a belief in the blind have to be better than their sighted counter-parts is this too a stereo type of sorts?
**19. If you are blind, to be accepted and successful on the job you have to be better than your fellow workers. "
The question, you, ask: Is this a negative or a positive?
I have been employed, on both sides of the fence. Referring to sighted, Visually Impaired and Blind. I was also brought up, in the idea to put in a good day and give it your best at work; since I was 17. Compared, to today, that I have seen; in my point of view. How much money, vacation and etc. Along, with questioning the loyalty to the company. I would have to say. Being in both positions. There is a portion that yes, a blind person has to perform, a little, better, than the sighted. As the question, comes up. Can you really, do the job, as good as the sighted person? So, one has to work a little harder, to prove the point. That yes, to a degree, the blind person, can and will do as good as the sighted person. I think, also, the facts prove, that even though this might be true. That, on the other hand. A person, with a disability, is more loyal to the company. putting in a days work. A. maybe out of fear, of job performance B. the question, of being able to do the job.
2. Always showing up for work. Relating to the fact not making up excuses for not coming in. Like sick, family issues, or transportation.
3. Because of sighted VIA handicap ( in this case, Blind ) job performance is better. As in meeting the challenges that the office or work place has, to
offer, in doing the job. So, I do not see it as a negative; instead I see it as a positive.
As, with my experience with Triple AAA and working out of the home. Even to the point of doing speaking Engagements, for Fidelco/Lions.
I think, if we look at, the work place, as a chore or proving a point, all the time. It could be a negative, after a while. Yet on the other hand, if you go and do the best you can do, take constructive complaints on job performance, hold a good attitude and openly communicate with the supervisor. Then, it can be nothing but a positive! You, will walk away at the end of the day feeling good; yet mentally tired, knowing you did a great job. After a while, everyone is working like a team. There is no real, looking at the handicap; instead the person. At least that is what I see at the work place. All professional and positive!
Gene Stone (Portland, Maine USA
FROM ME: What do you think on the thought, that disabled workers will be more loyal? Why?
**20. This is an interesting subject. I think this is true since most blind people think that because they are blind and when they start a new job they have to prove to their employer that they can do the job, and also to their co-worker that they can do the job.
I have had this experience and once I have gotten into the responsibilities that are required of me, my co-worker and employer both felt that I was doing the job as well as anyone else, and it didn't matter that I was blind. I feel that most blind people have this feeling when they start a new job, because they are in a unfamiliar situation and they feel that they want to make sure that they'll make a good first impression. Has this happened to anyone else? I think that as blind people we need to have a positive attitude about the new job and if our attitude is positive, then I feel that we can accomplish the job just as well as any sighted person.
John TeBockhorst (Davenport, Iowa USA
**21. You have to be better than everyone else! If that were true then most of us handicapped folks would be out of luck! To do as good as everyone else is what I'd shoot for. I feel that there's too much strain on we impaired people. to go for being better than everyone else is just too much to bare! If we can operate just as well as an average person at work we would do well in doing so. Of course, if we happened to do better than most at a job that's ok too, as it certainly would boost our ego, to say the least! I feel that we'd have to watch ourselves in regards to being better, as it might puff us up to no end! If we can handle the success of being better, yes...go ahead I say. As long as we get a realistic look at society in general, along with ourselves, and learn to maturely handle success...by all means go ahead! What about the person who is handicapped and does average in his/her job? If I were in that position being the average person instead of the over average person, I'd have to learn to except the others who are doing better and are excelling. Weather we are "better" or not as good, we as a whole, would have to except each other for each other's worth and not go around with a long face or a over confident look so as to upset the apple cart so to speak! That's the way I see it anyway; *excuse the pun..not intended!*
Ken Buxton (Ontario, Canada)
**22. Once upon a time, I was called colored fellow, colored folk. They said that us "colored folk" had to be smarter than white folks to get ahead
or considered able to do. Today things are quite different. However, there is much, I think to learn as by a blind person from the experiences of a Afro-American.
I am such. In my lifetime I have encountered a massive amount of pure under estimation.
Joel Cosby (Alexandria, Virginia USA email@example.com)
**23. This is a great Thought Provoker, especially for someone in college like myself. :-) I personally believe that in order to be successful at any given job, whether it be teaching or working at a vending stand, the blind person has to be confident with his/her blindness skills, have good social skills, and generally be prepared to face the public each and everyday. Teaching is a different story, but what I basically mean is that the blind person has to face a group of people each and everyday. Having good social skills and blindness skills is a plus for the employee because it helps him/her gain confidence on the job and generally be noticed.
I have a friend whom I've known for years whose blindness skills are not the greatest, but not the worst either. His social skills are mediocre, but they
need lots of improvement. I feel that these two things will work against him when he looks for a job after college, whether it's at Microsoft or a biology
place. This is just a personal example.
I hope what I've said has made some sense.
Alexis Read (Moorhead, Minnesota USA
FROM ME: Weve skirted around the issue of what skills or characteristics are needed by a successful blind person on the job. So what are they? And, are they different than what a sighted person needs? Does the blind person need anything additional than the sighted person?
**24. I truly believe that Marilyn's statement is correct, and have gone by this philosophy ever since I started working. Many people still believe that a blind person is not capable of doing a great job. Although I never used
the state commission for the blind to help me find employment, I can
understand that in many circumstances they may be useful. Even in the
year 2001 there are many misconceptions about blindness.
I've always felt that I have to prove myself to my employer and show that I
can do the job and do it very well. It was important to me that my boss
liked me and was happy with my work. However, it's also my nature to
work hard at projects whether they be work related or something I'm doing
for my own enjoyment.
Janet Ingber (Queens, New York USA)
FROM ME: Proving ones self on the job
Is this not what all new employees have to do? So Im thinking
Many times when we indeed do well at something, we many times will be seen as being amazing. And, usually when we see this going on, we the blind will say, No, that is silly. I am just a competent person who happens to be blind; blindness isnt that big of a deal. So here we see allot of us feeling that in employment we need to be better than the average guy/gal. So what are we doing to ourselves here? Who is it that has the problem?
**25. In response to Ann Parsons 4 I certainly agree with your statements. Are we holding ourselves to higher standards for the sighted public? if so, there is a serious flaw in this. Let's say for a minute that peers and co-workers did believe that a blind person was the best at his craft. (And this is debatable because sometimes when sighted people find the blind amazing, what they really mean is that "You are amazing for a blind person.") 1. the task that you are best at are either Because of: or despite your blindness.
Somehow the blindness itself has a direct effect on your ability. You are better because of your keen hearing. or: I even have sight and am not as good as you. By attributing your superior performance to blindness you are now less of a person. For your blindness has made you who you are.
2. Somehow this superior performance does not seem to translate to other tasks in your life. While you may be an exceptional teacher, few would leave their baby with you. And while you may write the most insightful columns, I don't really want to get to know you personally and/or find out who the real person behind the article is.
Maybe some are attempting to prove that they are better than their sighted peers. However, I know many, including myself at times who is just trying to show that I am the average person: with my strengths and weaknesses, as any other person, unrelated to my blindness.
If we do uphold this notion of trying to be better than our sighted counterparts, aren't we setting ourselves apart from other blind people?
Maybe this is an act of overcompensation in hopes of being accepted. Yet, what we are really doing is alienating those "Average" blind people who may not do things so perfectly and still not being fully accepted by sighted
Colleagues. I am not saying that this happens in all situations, but certainly I know of blind people who have gone through these challenges.
As Joel Cosby has stated: This having to be better, I think is a minority issue. I have read memoirs of women who have said that they felt that they had to be better than men to enter into a male dominated work place.
I think, though, it comes out of the desire to be noticed.
And, yes, the average people are looked upon as the below average.
Thus, I suppose my conclusion is: Yes, as minorities I guess that we must.
Jan Wright (Greensburg, Indiana USA)
FROM ME: (You wonder, how much does being better than the average makes you more accepted or separated or both? Do you think it is both? How can that be?
**26. This question is an interesting one. I'm not sure that "better" is the word I would use to describe the attitudes blind people need to have in order to be successful on the job. I do think we have to be more careful that we are not sloppy in our written communication because people may think that typing mistakes are due to our blindness. I do think it may take longer for a blind person to do certain parts of a job depending on the alternative skills being utilized. I would say we may have to work harder and/or be more particular than our sighted colleagues if we want to compete on terms of equality and win.
I think much of this idea that we need to be "better" comes from some of the internalization of the low expectations many have of us. I think if we have a crummy self-image we may be trying to prove something to ourselves. It may not be that we have to be "better." It may be that we need to argue against that little voice inside that says "You're not really very competent. People must think you're outstanding or they won't accept you at all."
I don't know that we need to be better, but we do need to have good
blindness skills, a positive attitude and a realistic approach to life and work. I think it's really a tough balancing act, at times. For example, I taught a class at the college where I work as the director of Disability Services. This was the first course I had taught at this college. It was a course orienting freshmen to college life. Anyway, I asked students to identify themselves when they were asking questions or entering into discussion so I would be able to identify them. I don't know if I would have done this ten years ago. I think at that point it would have felt clunky to me. I would have rather just tried to guess at who was speaking. Today, I realize we all do things to accommodate people all the time and my request was perfectly reasonable. I have to admit that once in a while, I did wonder if I was really a "super" blind teacher, I wouldn't ask students to do this. My point in all this is that we have to figure out what we value. Sometimes, I value working longer hours or going through a few gymnastics to make sure things are prepared so I can function competently as a blind person. Other times, I just realize that we're all human and if people think I need to be on a pedestal all the time, they need to get over it. I am blessed to work for a place that practically begged me to take my current position and really trusts me to do my job.
In summary, we need to have positive, truthful images of ourselves, possess effective blindness skills, figure out what we value and not sweat the small stuff. Of course, this is much easier to say than to do, but it's worth aiming for.
Kathy McGillivray (Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
FROM ME: Interesting, having to work harder in some environmental settings is the price or the task/necessity for a person who is blind. So does that mean that in those environmental situations the blind would be naturally superior? As in situations where sight is not needed, like in the dark or in a task requiring more the sense of touch or more hearing or more smell.
**27. I guess I'd have to say this is a true statement. Whether consciously or unconsciously I seem to fall into it a lot of the time. I guess it may be from years of teachers and other people looking down at me, treating me like I didn't have a brain. There is a stereotype
out there about visually impaired and blind people whether anyone wants to admit or not.
I have mentioned my situation with my student teaching this semester before, about not knowing if I should disclose my vision impairment on my application back in January. In the end I decided not to because I
knew once my cooperating teacher met me and got to know me it wouldn't be an issue. She or he would see that I am able to teach as well as anyone else. I was right, she didn't think anything of it. But I still found myself working harder than I probably needed to
come August when I started. I think once you had it imbedded in you that you have to be better it is hard not to always be that way. I am not so much like that now though. I get along with the other teachers in my building and I know that no one has a clue beyond my
cooperating teacher and the other two teachers in my grade who I have briefly mentioned it to in passing conversation. I think the most important thing is to not over emphasize your impairment. I find that by just stating the facts without any melodramatics or
pity in my voice, and even by joking around a bit about it they take it in stride. It is a non issue and they don't think about it.
So I guess what I'm saying is that this is a true statement but one that can be overcome. Be a hard worker because you want to be, prove yourself as a hard worker and someone who wants to get the job done.
But don't overdo it, be yourself.
Wendalyn (Nebraska, USA)
**28. the moral of the story is: if you need a visual impairment professional, get yourself a visually impaired professional. you will then be fairly sure that he is better than the sighted colleagues!
Nelson (Cumbria, England)
FROM ME: Interesting thought, the respondent saw the counselor as an example of the theme/question of this PROVOKER. Yes, that is okay, interpretation is up to the reader; I try to make each THOUGHT PROVOKER as open ended as I can. Anyone else see/think this? Then Im wondering, is this a quality, this got to be better thing, something a blind or even sighted counselor should have?
**29. Ann Parsons, response 4, says it though she doesn't put it all
together. Disabled people, blind people, have to be better just to be
good enough, as Mr. Wood, response 3, points out. And, as he also points out, no matter how hard and carefully one works, there are always people ready, on the one hand, to denigrate one's work because after all, it was done by a blind SOB and on the other to cry that any merit seen in that work or reward achieved for it was only because the person who did it is blind.
My experiences are a little different since they have to do with school rather than work, but the principle is similar. I only attended high
school briefly. During that time, one of the classes I took was economics. Since there were no facilities at the school, I took all my
tests, for all classes, home and my mother read and marked them. I
don't recall this happening in any other class, but a girl who I thought liked me once said in my hearing that it was no wonder I did so well on the Economics tests. After all, I got to take them home. The
implication being, of course, that I naturally took the opportunity to
cheat. I was shocked and hurt that anyone would assume this of me. I
think though that she was not being catty about me in particular. I think most people would cheat if offered the opportunity and can't understand that someone who is offered the opportunity would pass it up. Also, I doubt she would have mentioned it at all if I hadn't been among
the best students in the class. Now that I think of it, Economics was
my best subject. I didn't threaten anybody in French or Science or even English, and this girl fancied herself a hotshot. So, she was jealous and had to find a reason for my success. Obviously, a blind girl couldn't be as smart as she was or understand Economics better; so, the explanation must be that the blind girl cheated. The teacher never thought this. He may never have heard her say it.
When I was in college, some of my classmates used to tease me, not
altogether in jest that I only got the excellent grades I did (better than most or all of them) because I smooched and flirted with the
professors. None of them had the gall to suggest that I slept with one
or all of the professors because knowing me and knowing them such a
charge would have been patently absurd. But, many of my classmates,
while claiming to think me bright and clever, and indeed making a pet of me (Oh, look at the clever little blind-cripple girl)clearly were
jealous of me and had to find some way to account for my better grades
that discounted my academic abilities. I guess it's a matter of shame
for a sighted person when a visually disabled person does something
better than she does. This is much like my previous example. I never
let the flirting charge bother me. But, if I were sensitive or lacking
in self-confidence, such vial suggestions could have been devastating.
I sometimes wondered uneasily if my profs, especially in English which
was my major, gave me better grades than I deserved because of my
disabilities; i.e. because they felt sorry for me. This qualm was laid
to rest wen the hip young prof, the one I had the awful crush on,
confided that he for one marked me harder than most other students because he knew what I was capable of and that he needed to push me
rather than coddle me. I found this a relief. In other words, none of
my professors expected any less of me because of my disabilities, while
some of my classmates didn't expect much of me because of them and were
put out when I outshone them. And yet, if I hadn't been an excellent
student, many would have said, "Well, what can you expect, after all?"
Yes, I always felt I had to run twice as fast just to stay in the same
place. But, I don't know if this was externally imposed or simply
something I believed. It seems to me, though, there's a great deal of
truth in it.
Robert, you wonder, between responses 18 and 19, whether having to work
harder is a stereotype. I know that in my case it is not. To take one
example: When my fellow grad students could translate a hundred lines
of Old English between Tuesdays class and Thursday's, I could translate perhaps twenty. And, while they could read their translations, I had to
remember or be rebuked for not having done my work. Yes, I for one worked much harder, take longer, grow more tired, need to take greater pains in everything I do than a sighted and able bodied person.
Kerry Elizabeth Thompson (Springfield, Massachusetts
FROM ME: Just a weird thought- In sports, to be handicapped it means if you are the better golfer you have strokes added to your score, if your horse is faster it is made to carried extra weight; the handicapping serving to slow the better participant down, level out the playing field in order to make the contest more fair. Think of the twisting parallels of that handicapping scheme to the premise put forth in this PROVOKER scenario.
**30. This is an interesting subject. I read the first updates and all of them have good points. I want to take this subject a little further. Because of the nature of my job I have to hire drivers to work for me three days a week. I find myself as a supervisor having to convince my subordinate I know what I am doing and help them work for me and not do things for me. In this sense for six months I have to prove I know more about the work than the person I hired.
Angela Farmer (Dothan Alabama USA.)
**31. I was brought up to believe that if you are blind, you have to be better than anyone else. In my previous job, I never wanted to ask for assistance for fear of being thought incompetent. I later learned that my co-workers thought that I was standoffish.
Given this experience, I now believe that people who are blind are not really any different than anyone else. In this competitive world, we should all try to do our best. We should also be aware of the needs of others and treat people the way we want to be treated. If you do the best you can, that's all that you can do. If that's not good enough, you regroup and try something else. That is how it works for all of us-- disabled and non-disabled alike.
Mary Ellen Ottman (Daytona Beach, Florida USA)
**32. I was raised being told that I had to be better to be accepted. I am blind, I am black and I am a woman. For years on the job I was the best in the firm. I held my head up high and I acted confident. No one seemed to like me. I mean, they didnt treat me rudely, they werent mean, they just didnt include me in their little clicks. I think the majority of the reason for this was in me. When I started, people were naturally awkward, much like people will be when they meat a blind person. But later when I started winning cases, making waves within the office politics, it became something different. Ive only come to realize all this of late and I think what is necessary to right the situation is to, on my part be more human.
By someone who wishes to not give her name. (USA)
FROM ME: What might she mean by being more human?
**33. Yes. I think blind people need to be better than their sighted counterparts. After all, most of society measures us by the work we do. While I am considered "stereotypical" even by some blind persons because I work in VR, many sighted people--in the Rural South where I live now--can't believe it when I tell them what I do for a living.
I believe I am as good a counselor as any of my coworkers. Where I hang up is the paperwork and working with Program Assistants who often seem to take direction very well. If we played on a level field, I doubt many of us would believe that we had to be better.
Even in college, I was very, very competitive; I must admit to gloating a bit when I made the Dean's List while some of my sighted counterparts
did[not, but I worked my butt off for it because it was important tome.
In closing, I don't know if it is always having to be better, but I do
believe that we often have sacrifices that sighted people don't have to
make. I have moved several times for jobs--even moving places I did; not particularly like. I am now searching for a job where I really feel valued in a place I really want to live.
Darla J. Dahl, CRC
**34. Oh yes! We do need to put in more time, more work to get the job done. I am print and driving handicapped, in that I have to go extra steps to get these parts of my job done. So what Im really saying is we can many times end up being actually better than our co-workers as a result of having had to put more into the job which I think enhances the over all performance. Then I must also go on to say, that every and anyone who puts more into the job will end up doing it better.
So do we feel we need to be better? Well, yes but take a closer look at this feeling we are speaking of.
Merry L. Lundt (USA)
FROM ME: How about this one? The better will come if you who need to use alternatives, be they low vision or non-visual in nature, do indeed put in the extra effort? Though I wonder, if women and/or racial minority persons also feel this, need to be better phenomena, and they do not have the same need to do some extra effort due to a physical reason, and if we say their difficulties are in a large part due to perception, then what part of the blind persons up hill battle is physical and which part is perception? Are both conditions there? How much is physical and how much is perception? Which is easier to over come?
**35. As I was reading the responses to the latest THOUGHT PROVOKER I had many thoughts. At one time because of what I was told by other blind people that we had to be better than our cohorts I believed that I would never find employment because I had acquired low esteem because of everything I was told about how there are no employers who would be willing to hire you and etc. etc....
Now that I've been employed for the same agency for over 5 1\2 years all that is expected of me that I do my job since I have the necessary equipment and resources. If I am asked or told or directed to do something I am not familiar with I will go to my supervisor and get some understanding of what our
mission is. By doing this, this gives me the opportunity to put things in a format where I will be able to accomplish those things I have been instructed to do. I'm not looked upon as just because I'm blind I'm not able to do x x x, on the other hand since I am blind I have a responsibility to speak to those needs I do have so that we all know what are going to be some of those obstacles I will face or about to face. Just because I'm blind doesn't mean that my responsibility are any less than my coworkers in fact because I'm one of the senior staff there are more responsibilities that are placed upon me. So in other words if it is sold to us in a manner that may sound scary it just might turn out scary and therefore there would be a good possibility that we would set ourselves up for failure.
Luis Roman (East Chicago USA
**36. With regard to readers, I would like to bring up the question of accountability. I am not using a reader for most of my work because I am still on review and if the person gives me the wrong information by not being careful, I still get an error, but that person does not. I have gotten much fewer errors by struggling to find ways to do the work without the assistance of a reader; my mentors have been reading the had written materials to me. But I would like to add this to the mixture of what we are discussing.
Renee Zelickson (Huntsville, Alabama USA)
**37. I teach O&M here in the Seattle area and I would have to say I unfortunately think it is true for many blind people when they find a job. I have heard it said too many times from blind people that sighted co-workers often don't know what to do when a new employee comes along who is blind. Not only is
blindness something the general public still fears, but sighted co-workers aren't sure what blind co-workers can do. And it has nothing to do with the capabilities of the blind person. A lot of sighted people just don't know that blind people are doing all kinds of jobs. Sighted people still need to be educated.
Mary E. Lorenz
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
(Orientation and Training Center
Washington. Dept. of Services for the Blind
Seattle, Washington USA)
**37. I am as most of you know mobility impaired[wheel-chair] and we too have "SUPER GIMPS" so this is a fact in all forms of disabilities.
Diane Dobson (Victoria, British Columbia Canada)
**38. As usual, I have more questions than answers.
Too many questions and thoughts to ponder.
Our discussion has centered around work, but what about in general social
When friends are talking about volunteering, parenting or their latest
skiing expedition, do we feel as if we should have all the answers?
I ask this because I know a person who seems to have all the answers to any
dilemma that may be enhanced by blindness. Is this just their flawed
personality or are we inadvertently enculturated for such a response? And:
Who are they trying to be better than?
And, does this drive in the work place also carry over to other situations?
We have all mentioned the positives of attempting to be the best,
but there are certainly some negatives.
Most respondents seem as if, because of perseverance, they have certainly at least reached the standard of their colleagues. Let's assume that most blind people do. isn't their a cost here?
As we attempt to put in more hours than our colleagues to reach the standard of performance, what about our families? Our social lives? Our health?
Isn't that being compromised for our striving achievements?
Is "perfectionist" a well deserved stereotype?
and if so, are we setting a difficult standard for other blind people?
Is this urge to be better outwardly competitive or only internal?
Is it only to excel in the workplace, or is there a more intrinsic reward?
Because of such a goal-oriented philosophy, how do we view mistakes?
How do we handle mistakes in our own performance both at work and socially?
I think that when a person talks about "inhuman" this is it.
The anonymous respondent32 talked about being more human. She was
perceived as being the blind superwoman and maybe her Or, maybe they
sensed her feelings of having to prove herself. colleagues thought that
they had little in common with her. I do know many sighted people that
assume that our blindness (and all of its inconveniences and complexities)
takes up most of our time and interest. For example, many are caught off
guard when I advocate for a cause that is not related to the disabled (the
blind in particular). I agree with one respondent that said that it is also about the expectations. I think that we feel as if we have to insure that these low
expectations are not fulfilling prophecies. I think that this is very much a minority characteristic. We know sometimes that the majority see themselves as the normal, the standard of which all things is to be judged.
Thus, the majority is seen as normal unless proven otherwise and the
minority is to be proven normal by these standards.
Jan Wright (Indiana USA firstname.lastname@example.org)
**39. When I was young, I was told we had to be better and do better than sighted people in order to make it. I pushed myself way hard and now my system is in slomo. It was too much; too stressful.
I developed an attitude in which, if I couldn't do it better than others, I better not even try, so this philosophy was actually contraindicated for someone
like me. I was even told "why can't you be like (so-and-so) and I couldn't compete with that. But I really am not a lost cause. It appears that even now some people in some organizations of the blind are still saying the old 1950's cliche and I still cannot compete with it. I am
more into cooperation than competition and sure would have liked it if I'd been placed into a world that went along with this.
Now I know, regardless of how much expertise some others claim to have, that my best perspective is to be myself, at whatever pace that is. In some cases, I may be as fast as some others, but not better. I am certainly well above average in many respects, but average or below in others and that is okay. I cannot always go with the status quo flow, but when I'm done, it will be like the song says "I did it my way." That is the only way I can go after all.
Lauren Merryfield (Washington USA)
FROM ME: How about what this lady has said,
I developed an attitude in which, if I couldn't do it better than others, I better not even try, so this philosophy was actually contraindicated for someone
What other negative outcome might this Got to be better, approach have set up for those who fall into its spell?
**40. It is so exciting to hear what other visually challenged people are doing in the work place. After giving this some more thought, I remember how I tried to believe that my challenge would not hamper me in the work place. My first "real" job was working with DD people with behavioral challenges. This was not a popular idea in this particular company. As I think back, I really made some blunders that would have caused sighted people to be written up. I got a second chance. However, I was written up for something I had no part in doing. This is still a bur in my blanket, but it wasn't a disaster. I am now through grad school and working as an administrator and clinician. People coming to see me on a professional basis appear to be more comfortable with me since I have obviously faced some challenges. I also told a woman that a disability was not an excuse for not properly managing finances. She
hasn't been back. The point is that I am doing my job as others would do it. I fall behind in paperwork at times and make mistakes. My goal is to just
do the best I can in a rural area with few services. Time will tell if I am successful.
Marcia Beare (Martain, Michigan USA)
**41. As a child, I remember my mother insisting that my siblings and I only use correct English, no slang, no obscenity. She felt that as American Indians, we would be judged as ignorant or just stupid. Our manners had to be perfect. Our clothes had to be clean and attractive. Education was very important to her, something she valued highly as she had to quit school at fourteen. So, when I lost my vision at age eight, I remember her efforts to teach me to maintain a correct carriage, move confidently, maintain eye contact etc. She told my ballet teacher she knew I would occasionally trip and fall and wanted me to at least do it gracefully! She felt that any job undertaken must be done to the best of your ability. So, I grew up feeling that my personal best was what I needed to do whether it was washing a dish or taking a math class. I think my emphasis on achieving excellence was more influenced by being the eldest of five children being raised by a proud native American woman than by my blindness. Sometimes I put unreasonably high standards on myself, but I try to cut myself some slack by recognizing that you can't expect to be the best at everything. As long as you do your best, that is enough. So,
it's not being better, just doing your best. However, I do feel that the great sighted public does assume that if my child wears a stained shirt, they
will attribute the fact to my blindness and not to the fact that all children will get dirty. If there is dog hair on my rug, they will feel that a blind
person just can't keep a home clean. Not that I just don't mind a little dog hair and have more important things to worry about just now. I know I could keep that rug spotless if that was what I wanted to do, and that is enough. I think that many blind people do try harder to convince others that they are real people, and not a disability, the blind woman. I try not to get in to that game, but it isn't always easy. I do know, that if something is hard
for me I push myself all the more. But again, that comes from my upbringing rather than from any sense that I have to prove anything to them, the sighted world.
DeAnna Noriega (USA email@example.com)
**42. Doing a job well is important for everyone, but especially so for blind people because of the minority status. Doing better will certainly help,
but I don't think it is necessary. The important thing is to at least do
as well as your coworkers. If a blind worker doesn't do as well as
sighted workers it is assumed that blind people are less capable because
they are blind rather than other factors that could also cause a sighted
worker to be below average. (There may also be problems related to the
interaction of the blindness and the work environment, physical and/or
social.) And will often be generally though of as less capable than
sighted people, even beyond the areas in which he/she has difficulty,
because he/she is blind. If the blind person at least has basic blindness
and job skills, a good attitude, and is hardworking, undemanding, and
quiet but somewhat below average, he/she will likely be tolerated, but
still looked down on more than the below average sighted workers. He/she
may be treated kindly, though in a condescending way. This certainly
makes a very uncomfortable situation for that blind person who may not
only feel bad about his/her own situation, but also feel bad about giving
a bad impression of blind people.
So I think that it is important for a blind person to have good blindness
skills, a good attitude, to be hardworking, and to have a job that he/she
can do at least as well as his/her coworkers.
Anitra Webber (Salt Lake City, Utah USA)
FROM ME: If you were to rank order the important elements that a blind person needs to have to make it in the work place, like blindness skills, attitude, work ethic, etc, which would be at the top and below to the least important? Secondly, if there were several persons on the job that were not doing well and if one of them were blind, do you think that the blind person would be seen as the lowest of the lowest and if so why?
**43. I think that the Rehab. counselor is right. You need to have a positive attitude, all the right skills, and no "blindisms" for a job. You have to try very hard to show people you can do the job. My mom has told me that since I am disabled, people look twice at you, maybe even three times.
Beth Kats (USA)
FROM ME> An interesting point, you cant afford to have blindisms, you cant afford to look or act different beyond the fact of blindness. What do you think? Walking in with a long white cane or dog-guide or thickish lenses glasses is one thing, but if you start poking your eyes or rocking or
**44. Do blind people have to be better? If we examine the stereotypes
we encounter in society about blindness, in general we can divide
them into two categories: those which paint a picture of blindness
as something tragic and depressing with no hope and those which
paint a picture of blindness as something extraordinary that gives
us insights and abilities not found in sighted society. I believe
most blind people don't see themselves as either of these
extremes, but I think we can agree on the idea that we are often
faced with this extreme variance of views on blindness, a variance
that sometimes can be expressed by the same person.
One interesting issue I would propose is that blind people who have
assimilated better in sighted society may often feel in some ways
disconnected from the real issues faced by their fellow blind
brothers and sisters and mentally they believe that because they
succeeded in assimilation in sighted society the others who are left
behind or choose to stay behind are no longer important to them. I
am a member of NFB, but for a long time I have seriously
questioned its motives and policy decisions though I still accept
much of its philosophy. The leaders in NFB are well assimilated in
sighted society and they wish the other members of the
organization to have the same opportunity even if some of its
policies are far from popular among the rank and file membership.
Don't get me wrong, I want assimilation in sighted society but not
under the control of people who have forgotten some of our real
What does this have to do with our PROVOKER? I would end by raising
a concern that this emphasis in the popular mind of us having to be
better than our sighted peers may only alienate us from ourselves
and our own problems.
Michael Alvarez (Oregon USA)
FROM ME: How one member of a large organization may view the inward view of the group may differ from the perception of another member. Is there someone else who wishes to give their take on this one?
**45. The person in this thought provoker said "if you are blind, you have to be better than anyone else", and that is something that can be said by just about everyone in or out of the workforce. In order for women to join the armed forces, they have to prove themselves in basic training just like the men, but they feel that they have to be better than the men in order to be considered for promotion. Black executives once had to be more smart and more competitive in the business world, and they had to work hard to belong in what was once a white world. The newest employee fresh from college has to try to be better than his co-workers in order to rid himself of the "new kid" label. Everyone who really cares about the job they are hired to do wants to do the job, do it well, and be compensated fairly. They also want to be free from their labels, such as "the black guy", "the blind lady", the "new kid", "the wimp", whatever. There are millions of labels people put on other people every day, and while it may not always be fair, it is a part of being American because we are a country of such diversities, and we strive for equality for everyone. There are places in this world where you would not see a person in a wheelchair in the workforce, a blind person in some countries would be begging for money on a street corner, and, of course, we are all familiar lately with the plight of women in some parts of this great planet, but here, our differences are what make America great. We celebrate our peculiarities, once we've come to terms with them ourselves. Some people can't handle that which sets them apart from others, so they change it or try to hide it. Some people realize early on that what makes them different also makes them special. They accept that about themselves, and don't feel the need to compete but rather to just be confident that their performance is the best they can do. Blind people have to work harder in everything they do, because they can't just hop in the car and go to work, things have to be planned out ahead, and they have to learn their way around. I guess those would be major challenges, unless
you have someone who drives you and leads you around until you know your surroundings. But I would think that once situated, as long as you knew where everything was, a blind person who was comfortable with his or her blindness and content with the job, would be able to perform just as well as anyone else and shouldn't feel as though they were better than their fellow employees. I personally have never seen a blind person at work, except on television, so the only jobs I've ever seen a blind person do have been a masseusse, a news stand attendant and, of course, a counselor to other blind people. So tell me, what do you do for a living, and what would you really really rather be doing? Would your "dream job" have to accommodate your blindness?
K (Florida USA)
FROM ME: How about a PROVOKER in the near future where in we who write in tell what type of employment we are in?
**46. As I see it, like it or not, We Do have to be better. This is a consequence of two inescapable realities:
First, we are competing in a world built for and by sighted individuals--attempting to function in that environment without
vision. As a consequence of that, organizational skills and adaptive techniques are paramount. As these are adaptive
techniques and tools, there will inevitably be some loss of efficiency or flexibility. To site a simple example, most jobs
have requirements not noted in the Job Description, yet an expected function of the position--especially in a world of
more to do than people or allocated resources to do it with... We can't drive, yet, driving is a common expectation of
many positions. We've got to handle those on-the-job (not just getting there) transportation logistics. This all takes time
and energy and even perhaps some allocation of our gross personal/ or financial resources toward the keeping of the
job--whether it be the acquisition and maintenance of work-related tools. Personally, I don't think we should or can
always expect Uncle Agency to do it for us, because they too have limited budgets, and will try to do things on the
cheap, not always furnishing what the task requires--so if we want to be doing the task we've got to take the
responsibility to see that it can be done... And that may mean putting in extra time and effort.
Second, we are a "Stigmatized group". Most people in the sighted world can't envision how they'd do all of the things
that many of us do automatically and take for granted as just a part of our daily functioning. On the other hand, unless
we're Adventitiously blinded, can we really envision how it would be to be able to drive and cope with those myriad
stimuli of the road, our environment flowing past, keeping oriented, and dodging/looking out for other drivers--while
sleepy in the morning or tired in the evening??? So, because they can't imagine where we're coming from and how we
get from here to there--so to speak--can we blame them being unfamiliar with our lives--for doubting that they could cut
it--and wondering just how we can??? Perhaps, as was pointed out with "blacks" or any other minority group--it's a
process of gradual education and assimilation.
Let's look at that analogy for a moment: in the black population, there is a higher amount of unemployment than in the
white population. Many of those who are unemployed have inadequate educational skills, are not willing or able to
speak in a manner congruent with the expectations of potential employers, may dress in a manner not congruent with
norms of the workplace. In fact, many have such severe internalization of self-doubt and self-loathing that the have
decided to opt out of the dominant social culture and want to live in a ghetto/or RAP culture. Is it any wonder they
aren't embraced in the more pallid culture of the work place where the nail that sticks up either gets hammered down, or
doesn't get included in the project at all??? (thoughtful expression)
Then, there are those blind people so full of self-doubt that they say with bravado, "Why should I have to try any more
than I want, after all they won't hire me any way, they stereotype us, and I'm just not willing to fall into the "super blink"
role model trap". Is it any wonder they won't be employed, or that they're among the 85% of us who are unemployed and
therefore upholding sighted stereotypes of our incompetence???
Now, I know I've used "high contrast" personifications of characterization here, but it is for the purpose of "highlighting"
the realities. Life ain't fair, none of us were given a warranty or guarantee of easy life at birth. Look around and think
outside our parochial problems and realize everybody who takes the time and effort to define themselves as being in
some way a deviation from what they perceive as "the mainstream" considers themselves to have an unusually "hard
row to hoe". When we realize the sighted single-mother, funny looking guy, Etc., in the next cubicle also have
self-esteem issues, self-doubt and self-loathing to overcome, then maybe we won't be so tempted to have a collective
"pity party" thinking we're "Les Miserable". (grin) Get over it--work hard--try your best, keep putting on the helmet and
pads, going to those Job Interviews--just like the guy trying out for the team, and eventually, you may get your turn to
prove your self in the bottom of the fourth quarter in the game. As I said, who ever said life was fair? And, those who
excel do it with lots of hard work, self-discipline and self-denial. You don't get ahead by working 8:00 to 5:00, you're
only an hourly wage slave with that attitude. Perhaps it's, as George Harrison said, "It's all up to what you value in your
motor car"? Successful people always have to trade something for their success, you can't get something for
nothing--that is, you've got to give up personal time or comfort to get in a game where you're at least one standard
deviation from the norm. Like it or quit whining!
Nick Dotson (Pensacola, Florida USA)
**47. I belong to a group of blind people, the National Federation of the Blind. We believe that we can be as good as we have the ability to be. We are also very aware that much of the world does not believe the blind cam do as well as the sighted. We feel the average blind person can do the average job as well as the average sighted person. We are also aware that some of us will excel and some will not do well at all. Our biggest job now is to get society to give us the chance, including the chance to do better.
Charles Wingert (USA)
**48. I think that the most important thing is the attitude of the blind
person. If he/she really believes that he/she can and should do certain
things then he/she will be more willing to make the effort to get good
training. And then also be more willing to work hard at improving their
skills and do the job as well as they can even if it is difficult,
uncomfortable, inconvenient, and/or time consuming. No one is perfect, but
most lean towards either being independent and responsible or dependent
and irresponsible, and I think that it really shows and can really affect
whether or not an employer will give us a chance to prove ourselves or be
willing to work with those who may have difficulties in some areas.
The stereotypes are still there so it is likely that the below average
blind employee will be thought of as less capable because they are blind,
while the below average sighted employee will more likely to be though of
as lazy or just not very good at certain things. But again if any
employee is obviously doing their best, it is more likely that the
employer will be more willing to work with them as much as they can.
Anitra Webber (Salt Lake City, Utah USA)
**49. I really find the responses most interesting - almost overwhelming!
I also grew up with the heavy load of having to be better than my sighted peers, but I have been learning that it is impossible. Like blind people, sighted people have their strong points, as well as their limitations. All of us have to accept the fact that we can not be good at everything. Comparing ourselves with one another serves no purpose, irrespective of us being blind or sighted. We can only do our best as blind employees, sportsmen, clergy, politicians, teachers, counselors, etc. I know the pain of being compared with sighted people, but, after all, whose problem is it? I think it is that of the sighted person who does not have the insight to judge the circumstances and be fair.
I had been working as a language instructor for 19 years in our department. 2 years ago two sighted people joined us. They had problems with the fact
that they had two blind colleagues - they treated us as inferior beings. It was hell, but I'll not go into detail. The end of the story is that the one
left the department while the other one is being retired on account of psychological problems. What angered me most of all was the attitude of our older sighted colleagues. The new ones had told them that nothing had been done in the department while the two of us "blindies" had been working on our own. What a terrible lie, but it made them look good - at least they were needed! Heeeeee-hoooooo-hah-hah! Our older colleagues became hostile towards us, which showed me that they believed the lie. I accept no responsibility for their attitude, because I had been doing my utmost at work! I had to evaluate myself - what are my talents and what are my limitations? Accepting oneself despite limitations brought about by ones blindness is rather difficult. However, I have learnt a lot through this experience and one of the most important lessons is that it is utterly ridiculous to strive to be better than someone else just because he/she is sighted. Of course I know that one can work around some of the limitations brought about by blindness by using equipment, one's other senses, etc - and I have been doing so all my life! But, there are limitations I will always have and those limitations I can really do nothing about. I get terribly frustrated because I cannot help those sighted students who are almost illiterate, but want to do a language course. I have the empathy, but not the sight. The sighted colleagues have the sight, but not necessarily the empathy.
Enough from me.
Janie Fourie (Pretoria, South Africa
**50. I was personally impressed with the wide variety of responses I read this evening. Response 42, the Native American woman, caught my attention since my husband is also Native American. I hear the "have to be better" thinking in his communications regularly. I also thought of a book I read which was written by an NFB author. In this book, the story was told of a young man who became an engineer at a telephone company. He solved some difficult problems that prompted the telephone company to ask another blind engineer to work for them. This is not always the way things work, but why did the company assume that the blindness made these men better engineers?
The third thought I had was of a radio program of which I am a huge fan. This program is called Adventures in Odesy. It is a Christian based program, but they have really worked hard to incorporate handicapped chapters in its stories. The handicapped characters are not always good either! A blind girl tries to pretend to be sighted and ends-up in the principal's office. A boy in a wheelchair shoves another student into a volcano display. There are many more stories where these kids are acting like other kids. They have temper tantrums and everything. I wonder if views will be influenced with this type of exposure. Imagine, handicapped children playing a part without being "super beings".
Marcia Beare (Martain, Michigan USA)
**51. I agree with all of those who have clearly explained how we blind folks need to do our best to carve out a place in the general work force. If we except the premise that we must be better than our sighted peers, and if we also accept the premise that blind folks aren't intrinsically more or less capable than our sighted brothers and sisters (I think most of us in this discussion accept both premises), then we are left with a dilemma. Since the range of talent or ineptitude in our population should be comparable to that of the larger population, and since our culture demands an enriched endowment of talent and effort as the price for acceptance in the society we must expect to find a gap between the supply of ability in our community and the demand for our talents in the larger society. This gap may explain the chronically astronomic levels of unemployment in the blind community.
What can we do, then, to close this gap? As individuals we understand that we must each work extraordinarily hard to succeed in society. Does simply working harder and being all we can be serve as the basis for public policies designed to close the employment gap? I think not. To be sure the agencies and institutions that serve our community must foster a commitment to excellence, but an employment policy that depends for success upon the over achievement of the bulk of the members of the community is doomed to failure. Unless you think you've found the secret of unlocking superhuman potential in the whole blind community, you must concede this point. Even if you did come up with such a magic formula, you'd have to figure out a way to keep it away from the
rest of society because the failure to do so would allow the rest of society to get at that formula, and in a little while, we'd be dealing with yet another
achievement gap, just ratcheted up to a higher pitch. There has to be a better way to integrate the bulk of our community into the general work force
than engaging in an ultimately futile motivational arms race.
I'm not raising this issue to disparage the efforts of those among us who are doing their best to improve skills and raise expectations throughout our blind
community, and I'm not trying to offer an excuse for individuals who'd rather whine about the injustice of the world than get up and give life their best efforts. I am saying, though, that most of the ideas expressed so far on this subject represent the conventional wisdom, and I think we need to develop new models for addressing the employment problem. Sadly, I have no new ideas to contribute yet, but I'd love to hear your suggestions.
Frank Welte (San Carlos, California USA)
**53. I don't believe we have to be better. From my perspective, it is that I have to put out a great deal more energy to get the job done than I did before
my vision loss. Just tapping into that energy means that I must have a strength of will that most people don't even access. There are many instances in life that require that same amount of will. Before the loss of my eyesight my peers at work considered me exceptional. Now they don't even look at my work or the quality of my work. They see me as exceptional as a person because of my strength of character. Many knew it was there any way. However, there are more now that are aware of it because they are now aware of circumstances that I can't hide from them. My work ethic was set on standards I created for myself, not the standards of my employer or my peers. I am still setting standards, however, I have noticed there are quite a few new ones.
Sandra Oliveira (Long Beech, California USA)
**54. Wow! This response really hit home with me.
I really have to agree with the rehab consumer's statement on this Thought
Provoker. When I was in college and graduate school, I had the belief that
I wouldn't be employable as a person with a visual impairment without a GPA of at least 3.5, and it took a lot of convincing on the part of coworkers
and others at my social work field placements in college to make me think
I think part of this view stems from the fact that when we come to a job, we
enter situations where we are the first blind person a colleague has ever
worked with, and we represent all people who are blind or visually impaired
and think that we must "shine" as a model for all blind people in general.
I also think that part of this standard stems from the "super-blinks"
mentality that people have (sighted and blind alike). It seems to me that
we deal with two predominant stereotypes of blind people. The first is the
Mr.. Magoo who is helpless, dependent, and socially inept. The second is
the "super-blink" who seems to be invincible, never misses a beat, has
superhuman ability to adapt to blindness, and has achieved to the level of
very few non-disabled people. I believe that we need to recognize all blind
people, not just the elite or the "Mr.. Magoo's" to counter this "have to be
better" syndrome. I also have to applaud people like Deborah Kendrick, who wrote a book entitled "Jobs to be Proud of" which chronicles the careers of both white and blue-collar blind and visually impaired people who work in satisfying jobs.
Chris Sabine, MSW (Cincinnati, Ohio USA)
**55. "As someone who has worked for almost 25 years in competitive employment, I'm not sure if you
have to be better than other people. You certainly have to use your blindness and job-seeking skills to get a job. Unfortunately, I work in a State agency
and I have come through the ranks, probably because I am a good test-taker and because I know how to do my job. I am organized and that certainly helps.
I spend a lot of time listening and try to keep up on the regulations because I write hearing decisions for Public Assistance cases. But State employees
often have the attitude that as long as you put your time in, anything is acceptable. I sometimes wish I had taken a job where I would be using different
skills but I guess I took the easy way out.
In summary, you certainly have to have skills, a good appearance and a good sense of yourself to get a job. I don't know how that bears out once you are
working, though. I would like to think that blind people do their best on jobs but I guess that there are blind people who work hard and others who just
do the average.
Mary Jo Partyka (USA)
**56. "In all facets of life, even
at our employment , we should set our goals to do our best and
smile. Why smile one would ask? First it should make you feel good and
second promote ourselves as positive. If you are gainfully employed, be
open to trainings and or seminars which will assist you to strive for
excellence , but do nothing with your lives with the stresses of" I have to be
number one". Folks, life is to short to always be reminding yourselves that
because of blindness you need to be better. I say no to that fact , only
because as human beings, not as a blind community, we need to from day to day do our best and live life as it is.
Lee Stone (Hudson,New York USA).
**57. "<< "If you are blind, to be accepted and successful on the job you have to be better than your fellow workers."
I've heard this also, especially from David. The point being, just to get in
the job you need to be something special. To keep it, well! I haven't
actually seen this carried out in real life. Except for a couple of the
blind people I know who are working, most are ordinary people with average
skills carrying out jobs with average success. What I do note is that many
of them take far more pride in having and doing the job than their sighted
Lori Stayer (Merick, New York USA)
**58. Without trying to repeat everything respondents have already stated on this topic, let me first say that, no matter what minority group you belong to, you have to prove yourself to be better than the majority just to be credited for your work on the job or in your community. You sometimes have to do twice as much of a work load or work longer hours just to keep your job. This doesn't mean, however, that you're guaranteed acceptance by the majority
or that you will be paid equal or above what everyone else is being paid. It only guarantees that you'll keep your job for as long as they want you on their work force. I've learned that all the time spent in the world in breaking your neck to be better than the majority, to be perfect, or to be super doesn't matter to everyone else because long-held stereotypes of blind or disabled people or of people of color will still be there wherever you go. Even those around you to whom you've proven yourself to will still hold those negative ideas--dumb, ignorant, slow, or whatever other stereotypes anybody else can come up with about people with disabilities or people of color--and you cannot do anything about what people think about you, positive or negative.
When I was working for Wendy's (1989-1993) to earn enough money to put in savings for when I returned to college to obtain my four-year degree, despite the many hours I put in and all the back-breaking labor I did, I was still no more a part of the group than I would be if I had never worked there. Sure, my coworkers talked to me from time to time, but I was never included in the cliques. When I was invited to an employee party, it was only out of obligation
since the invitation was to all employees altogether. Part of it had to do with racial prejudice, but the other part had to do with not wanting to feel responsible for a blind person outside of work even though they never had to be responsible for me in the first place. While not being accepted as part of the group, other than as an obligatory act, didn't matter to me, I was never given raises in the four years I was working there despite my asking for a raise or asking about when I would be getting a raise. When it came time to asking for accommodations upon the company changing bun toasters to one where all the hot parts were exposed, my boss refused to switch the toaster back to one where all the hot parts were covered for safety. They claimed that the new bun toaster worked faster and was more efficient. While this may have been true, the best accommodation that could be made was for my tasks to be more limited. Not only was this humiliating, but I felt as though I wasn't doing myself or the job force in the restaurant any good; thus, why I
quit the job.
In the competitive world that we live in, an individual or a group of people proving themselves to be better or doing more work than their counterparts are expected to do is the major rule to the foot race we run. Part of it is due to expectations the majority--those who are not people of color or don't have a physical disability--put on us of the minority group to which we belong to, and the other part is due to those in the minority groups imposing the same expectations on us in our groups. In other words, it's a domino effect or chain reaction. Of course, there are those who are personally driven to
prove themselves to be better and competent because they, themselves, have a high self-esteem. Yes, we all, no matter if we're part of the minority or part of the majority, should be aware of the legacy we leave behind, but we shouldn't try to prove our independence, confidence, and competence to the
point that we alienate people or make them feel uncomfortable with being around us. We also shouldn't do this to the point that we fall into the trap of being perfectionists, as nobody's perfect. I'm not saying that we shouldn't prove ourselves to be competent, independent, and confident because we should. We should do the things expected of us to the best of our ability. I'm also not saying that there still won't be people who feel awkward or uncomfortable
because they see us doing so well or better because there will always be somebody who does. A lot of this kind of feeling uncomfortable, as a respondent illustrated when writing about doing well in the economics class and the classmate being jealous, not only has to do with jealousy, but it also has to do with feeling intimidated. While the jealousy may show, the feeling of being intimidated may be expressed through acts of jealousy, feeling awkward
about being around you, or avoiding you altogether. These things, you cannot do anything about it, for it's their problem how they feel, not yours. If people see that you're not perfect and you ask people for assistance from time to time, then more people are apt to feel more comfortable around you. They won't feel so alienated, and they'll see that you're more human than a robot or all-perfect.
In short, all any individual can do is to do the expected tasks to the best of their ability, be competent and have a lot of confidence in themselves. If you let it show to the world that you have low self-esteem, very little confidence in yourself, or don't feel competent, that's when people eat you up alive. We live in a highly competitive world, but we cannot stress ourselves out trying to run a foot race with everyone else. All that does is increase setting yourself up for failure as well as affect your psychological, emotional, and physical health. Though easier said than done, it takes accepting yourself for who you are to not have to prove yourself above and beyond to be better, not focusing on other people's attitudes or stereotypes of people of your kind. All these things and advice, I've learned from being with my husband. When we first got together, he felt uncomfortable around me and wasn't sure whether or not he could make a mistake, as I was trying to prove myself to the point of nearly making him feel like he had to be perfect. It wasn't
until he assured me that I didn't have to be superwoman to prove my independence and capabilities that I was able to let my hair down and be easier on myself. While learning all this wasn't all on the job and not everyone in the work world is like my husband, there are still many who are like him and will take such an attitude. There'll be many who will accept you for who you are no matter how imperfect or not-super-human as you are, while there are those who won't be as accepting. If you focus on those who accept you for who you are and accept yourself for who you are, then you won't have to break
your neck to be a perfectionist.
**59. This is an issue with which I am struggling right now. I live in a suburb of Chicago which happens to be very wealthy. The houses around here are relatively
ritzy, including the one in which I live. I recently was in contact with somebody from the Chicago offices of the Rehab Services Administration, and when
he returned my call one of the first things that came out of his mouth was, and I quote, "You're on the North Shore, aren't you?"
Me: "Yes I am sir." I didn't give my street address or the specific suburb in which I live, even though he asked for this information.
Him: "Well I grew up there!"
Then he immediately changed the subject to what it was I had contacted him about. I take his querying about where I live two different ways. Either he
was just trying to be friendly and make conversation, in an attempt to get my mind off being frustrated, or he did that as a means of discrimination. I
suspect the latter was true, judging from past experiences like this.
I attended the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind a number of years ago to receive some services, and upon talking with a former employee there, note the
emphasis on former, my mother and I discovered that the Lighthouse gives priority to clients who live in the city itself rather than in some ritzy suburb.
So yes, I'm getting the notion that we do have to be better than our sighted counterparts when seeking employment or doing anything at all with our VR agencies.
Here's one more perfect example. I have a younger sister who is blind. She has been attending a local college prep program for students with learning disabilities.
This is her third year there, but only her second year living in a dorm on campus. Only a few weeks ago was anything ever done about computer access for
her. My father had to order JAWS directly from Freedom Scientific, because communication to our VR agency went unanswered for a very long time. Here again,
we have our suspicions about why phone calls and written communication were never returned, minus all the bureaucracy. My sister's copy of JAWS arrived
with no hitch, but guess who got lucky enough to have to have his busy mother drive him over to teach his sister how to use the program and pick him up.
Fortunately my sister is a very quick learner. When she comes home for long weekends or for holiday breaks, I try to work with her on my computer as much
as possible so that she knows everything she needs to know.
In summary, I don't think we the blind and visually-impaired should have to prove ourselves capable to the extent at which I find myself, but I do think
there are times when we do have to prove ourselves to ourselves and to others.
Jake Joehl, Chicago USA