Recently, our Director, Georgie Bullen published an article on LinkedIn about how Visually Impaired people are discriminated against in the workplace and the reasons she believes this happens. We felt it was only right to share the article on here as one of the main reasons Georgie founded Team Insight was to try and educate employers on VI awareness, in the hope that she could help to change the unemployment rate.
Are we blind to the discrimination of visually impaired people in the workplace?
If you were faced with the CV of someone who was visually impaired, would it have any impact on whether you felt you could employ them? Whether it be a conscious belief that blind people are not capable or skilful employees, or whether it is simply the fear of making some sort of ‘Politically Incorrect’ statement that would offend, like ‘See you later’, the simple fact is that visually impaired people are not gaining employment.
In the UK, less than 27% of visually impaired and blind people of working age are in employment. When you compare this to the non-disabled working age population in the UK, where 73.6% are employed, one begins to appreciate the enormity of this issue. Even on comparing the visually impaired population against the general disabled population, there is a huge disparity where 46% are in employment. So why is it that, either consciously or unconsciously, we view visually impaired people as unemployable?
I believe one of the main factors contributing to the unemployment rate, is a general discomfort interacting with visually impaired people; it’s the feared awkwardness of ‘should I go in for a hand shake?’ or should I avoid saying “Nice to see you” for fear of causing offence.
There is no shame in not knowing how to handle a new situation, but we should not let our fear of making a social faux pas affect decisions on whether to give a visually impaired candidate an interview. The best way of dealing with such a situation is to be frank, to ask questions regarding accessibility prior to the interview for example ‘Do you need any special assistance or requirements’ should not offend. (Side note: Visually Impaired people say phrases like ‘See you later’ all the time, do not make an unnatural effort to sensor yourself!)
Another factor that may be a disincentive to employment are the ‘supposed’ costs associated with employing a disabled person: some visually impaired people require support workers or specialised equipment and employers are under the false impression they would bear the bill. However, there are a number of schemes, such as the Government’s ‘Access to Work’ programme, which exist to fund these additional costs.
There are instances where there will be no ‘direct’ discrimination, but visually impaired people will be blocked from even completing an application due to its inaccessible nature. This can be down to issues such as the application itself being unresponsive to programmes which allow visually impaired people to enlarge and modify resources, or it can be down to the format of the application, as there are some which will not allow them to continue if they fail to meet certain criteria such as being able to drive. Yet in many employment situations a visually impaired person would be entitled to use a driver/taxi through access to work and their other skills may be entirely otherwise appropriate to the position. Employers should consider whether their application process in unknowingly discriminating.
It should be acknowledged these appalling employment statistics cannot necessarily be blamed entirely upon the employer some responsibility must also be due to the nature of the impairment and it’s affects upon the individual. Many visually impaired people feel undermined by their disability, self-conscious, and suffer from a lack of confidence which may easily deter them from seeking employment. It is important to understand that visual impairment can be a very isolating disability. To actually apply for a job demands the individual may have initially had to overcome many of the barriers that come with their disability.
Getting a job is a very competitive process for everyone and deciding who to hire is in itself a challenging task, there will often be only minor criteria differentiating the applicants, but when considering the pro’s and cons of each candidate, visual impairment should not automatically come down as a con. Many would argue that visually impaired that visually impaired people make even better employees as they’ve had to work ten-times harder to earn their position and they will be keen to over-achieve in their work to prove their doubters wrong.
Unemployment rates amongst visually impaired people are a major issue and it is time for us to open our eyes to it. As a caring society we should make a conscious effort to improve our short comings.
You can read the original post on LinkedIn here