Blind injustice on the job hunt circuit

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Recently for my sister's birthday I sent her an edible bouquet of chocolate flowers. The running joke in my family has always been to find creative and thoughtful ways to cope with our disabilities. Because my sister has a vision impairment she couldn't see the colour of the 'flowers', but I knew she would love the taste of the chocolates.

Casey's guide dog Bridget wearing a bow tieMy mum hated that her daughters spent so much effort trying to be 'normal'. But the truth is, the things that happen to a person with a disability are nowhere near what a 'normal' person would experience. Consider the challenge of going through job rejection time and time again, knowing it is because of the perception that all people with a disability need a lot of assistance, money for assistive equipment etc. Offers of employment are diminished before an interview has even been granted.

My sister spent her birthday with a Disability Employment Services provider trying to find a full-time, meaningful job. She went directly to businesses in her area, dressed professionally and with an introduction letter and resume, so that a prospective employer would get to meet her in person and see what a keen, independent and intelligent person she is. She just wanted the opportunity to apply. In the end she created her own employment because she couldn't find an employer who would take someone with a vision impairment.

I know how she feels. When I graduated from Guide Dogs Victoria in 2014, I was faced with the cold, hard fact that my life would never be the same again. My guide dog was my shadow, an extension of me. When I attended a rare job interview, I would put a bow tie around my guide dog's neck to deflect some of the heat off me.

The interviewer would ask questions that were of a more chatty, personal nature — everything except questions about my qualifications (I have a Diploma, a Bachelor of Health Science, and 15 years of work experience behind me). The only thing that seems to be holding me back is my vision impairment and the 'elephant' in the room — my guide dog.

So what changes do we need to see in the general workforce to make it a fair playing field? First, don't assume that people who are disabled are limited to certain industries. Not all people who are blind want to work in a call centre. We all have passions and want to contribute to the workforce.

Other things that would help are truthful and inclusive job advertising, and job application systems that are accessible. For example, avoid captcha technology — I am not a robot, but nor can I see the security images that these tools expect me to be able to identify. Consider, too, the wording in the advertising: Do you really need to have a drivers license?

 

"If I can win an ironman I should be able to find a meaningful full-time job."

 

Equal opportunity should start, and be discussed openly, in the job interview. A good start would be to access the great technology that is already available and will only get better in the future. Never-ending paperwork and having to use pens to sign forms should be banned (my guide dog can't sign for me). PowerPoint presentations need to include audio descriptions and captioning resources.

Cultivate people's abilities rather than creating hurdles. Allow leadership to be formed in management positions. IT database platforms need to meet access levels to support productivity. To engage employees with disabilities in the workplace, the physical and cyber environments need constant upgrading and adjusting to allow everyone to be productive and reach their employment potential.

Then there are custom contracts that reflect the employee's needs to be retained in the workplace; disability awareness training for employees, with someone who has lived experience of what it's like to actually be disabled; the list goes on. Did you know that businesses who employ disabled people can receive $8000 per person to assist with training and modifications?

My sister is now 24 and I am 31. I can't wait for society to learn about different abilities, on their own accord and through positive advertising. Blindness has no cure. I want to be a good role model to my family and friends. If I can win an ironman I should be able to find a meaningful full-time job. It just shouldn't be this hard.

 

 

Casey Hyde is a disability advocate who believes in social justice. She is also a champion in para triathlon. She loves travelling around Australia and meeting people who open her eyes to new things.

Main image: Casey's guide dog Bridget wearing a bow tie

Topic tags: Casey Hyde, disability, discrimination, vision impairment

 

 

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Existing comments

In today's world perhaps the greatest disabilities are those flaws of character possessed by those blind to the qualities of others and who see only the superficiality of outward physical appearance.
john frawley | 02 April 2019


A fantastic article speaking a truth with which I am personally familiar. I, too, remember the more than 300 CVs I sent to law firms and others after graduation and the (not always terribly subtle) references to my lack of sight on the rare occasions on which I made it to a face-to-face interview. I agree, too, that engagement and awareness is a good part of the problem. Those suggestions all sound excellent.
Justin Glyn SJ | 02 April 2019


After reading this excellent article I was moved to look up more about you on the web, Casey and I was even more impressed. To my way of thinking the HR or personnel people who interviewed you should not be in their jobs because they did not have the insight or ability to see what an asset you would be in their organisation. For heavens sake, you are vision impaired but that has been no impediment to many in working at a professional or managerial level. You obviously have high level organisational and communication skills, which many positions require. Of course adjustments might need to be made for some tasks to be completed, but that can be done, as can education of your colleagues. I am sorry these limited people could not see your potential.
Edward Fido | 03 April 2019


I do hope that you can get the employment you would like. I am a retired person who spent nearly twenty years at Vision Australia in their library.Your article in Eureka really made me aware of the injustice that occurs when it comes to employment. Whilst I can't help you get a job I will be thinking and praying that someone will give you the chance to show them that people with a vision impairment can do just as good a job as those who have sight. I have a friend at my old place of work who is proving it!
Elizabeth Craven | 05 April 2019


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