Sometimes, as a blind person, we come across positions where a visual impairment gives us the edge we need. My job with Supersense is a perfect example of this since I'm a member of the blind community and can give the company insight into our customers' wants and needs. However, I haven't always been as fortunate to work for a company that valued my blindness from the start. Many employers are put off by their own preconceived ideas about the extra cost and time that would need to be put into a blind employee, regardless of their validity. In this post, I will share a few job-hunting stories as a blind person to provide insight on when talking about your blindness before an interview will get a potential employer into your corner.
I'll begin with more of a humorous story from a couple of years ago. At the time, I had just been laid off and considered myself a bit of an accessibility crusader. I was prepared to meet the corporate sector head-on about accessibility issues. I figured I'd start with a rapidly-growing company in the security industry. I applied to the company as a technical support specialist. At some point during the hiring process, I was asked if I used their services. I said I couldn't. When they asked why, I pointed to the product's lack of accessibility. Not to my surprise, my application was declined. In the clarity of hindsight, I can tie my explicit accessibility critique to part of the reason why.
In my experience, pointing out ways in which the company can improve the accessibility of their product during the application process, or in other words, how the company can restructure their entire plan for future development, and increase their expenses for the blind market which probably doesn't fit into their business goals, is not a great first impression. In fact, many companies are so afraid that hiring a blind person would increase their costs and disrupt their operations that introducing blindness too early into the conversation can be off-putting in itself. Therefore, I choose to make visual impairment a more discreet part of my resume.
For example, I don't often mention my years of schooling at the Kentucky School for the Blind. But instead, I would say that I represented the blind community on the International Congress of Youth Voices, a nonprofit platform for writers and activists worldwide. The goal here is to present blindness as an unequivocal strength, and not leave it to the HR person's misconceptions as, unfortunately, most employers, who are not a part of the blind community, will be unsure how to approach a visual impairment.
My rule is, if you're not sure how your blindness will be received, it is best not to mention it straight away and instead highlight what makes you the best person for that particular role in the company. So, I always try to mention my blindness in the most impressive light possible and juxtapose it with my work experience in business or the technical field.
As blind people, we often receive unique opportunities to promote and represent our community. For example, you might get featured in a commercial, But don't take it only at its face value. You also just served as a televised spokesperson for the blind community. This is usually a great place to start thinking of ways to use language to make blindness a strong part of your resume without alienating a potential employer.
If this approach doesn't work perfectly for you, there are still other ways to highlight blindness as an irrefutable positive. One is to use visual impairment as a reinforcement for your other strengths. For example, a common strength of blind people is that we bring a unique perspective to the workplace, but we also have a network like no other. If you are involved in the blind community, you likely have connections to people with all sorts of talents. In my most immediate circle of blind friends, I know music producers, web designers, programmers, lawyers, and teachers. Even if your crew doesn't carry heavy accolades, everyone you know is talented in something. If you have a good relationship with them, you can leverage their skills to help the company.
As long as you stay creative and remember to highlight the most significant ways a company can benefit from your presence, you'll be sure to find a great position that values you and your unique skill set. As the awareness in society towards blind people increases, the misconceptions about blindness and it is being a hindrance rather than an opportunity will fade. And the more you'll apply for jobs, the quicker you'll learn to navigate the waters of the employment process.
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