Blind Blokes and unemployment
In 2010 I wrote this article with the prospect of becoming a paid regular contributor to a website for information sharing for People With a Disability. This was my audition piece. I was not hired as a contributor, but, they did like this essay.
They published the essay with a few minor edits; – the article was neater and more `politically correct` with more generic polite contemporary language used.
This included changing the word “blokes” to “men”.
Which I found interesting; I deliberately used the term `blokes` in my original essay to denote the type of man I was talking about and to give the essay a specific voice – “the working class man“.
The facts and figures were true for the time
and I’d be very interested to know how things look now.
Essay / Article
Men at work.
So what do most blind people do for work?
“A lot of blind people work at The Institute for the Blind, a workshop where they make doormats and cane furniture. Or, many people with low vision work as switchboard operators.”
This was the response I got from a Preparation for Employment Program (PEP) in 1983. I was attending this PEP course to help me in my transition from being fully sighted to being a person with a vision impairment. Six months earlier a few months shy of my eighteenth birthday I was affected by a hereditary genetic disease (Leber’s Optical Atrophy) which rapidly reduced my sight to below 6%.
Loosing my eyesight had a dramatic effect on me and I needed to get my life back on track. Regaining my confidence, developing some new skills and getting a job seemed to be the best recipe for success. I quickly learnt the day-to-day skills of how to manage do most things required living with low vision. So, I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to find work. There was two personal stumbling blocks however, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I didn’t really know what someone with low vision could do. That’s when I asked the question, and my search began.
I’ve known many blind people who are fantasdtic switchboard operators and this appears to be a terrific job to which they enjoy greatly. But, it has never appealed to me and I was stunned and a little disappointed that this was my probable allotted career path. I knew then in 1983 that people who are blind must be doing a greater variety of work depicted to me at that time, and hence I too would find work more suitable and interesting.
Last month I met a guy who asked me the same question I asked in 1983, because he was wondering the same things. And, he was told to his horror that most blind people work in admin, or call centers. This was told to him by someone at a Disability Employment Network (DEN) agency. I recently withdrew from the same agency because it reminded me too much of 1983 and unlike their attitude I’ve moved on.
It appears that progress in attitudinal change among some service providers has not come very far. I know that the range of employment opportunities for people with disabilities is endless. But, at the same time unemployment amongst people with disabilities in particular people with vision impairment is extremely high.
According to 2003 ABS figures, 53.2% of people with a disability participated in the labour force compared to 80.6% of people without a disability. And, in 2007 Vision Australia commissioned a report – Vision Australia – 2007 Employment Report.
The report stated that 63% of people who are blind or have low vision that want to work are unemployed, and many have given up looking for paid employment. The 2007 Employment Report highlights the predicament of job seekers who are blind or have low vision in Australia.
Advancements in technologies and social & political attitudes have allowed people to feel more included. But, still there is much dissatisfaction and gaps in service provision.
For the many who like or are suited to office work and admin roles there is a lot of support and practical assistance available. But, what happens to the other people outside of this realm?
Vision Australia’s 2007 Employment Report states: –
““There is a higher need for technical skills amongst people who are blind or have low vision
There is a heavier concentration of employment for people who are blind or have low vision in non-manual or non-labour positions. Therefore, the need for this group to be computer-literate and/or to possess other technical skills is elevated. Further, it is clear that the higher the level of education possessed by a person who is blind or has low vision, the more likely they will be employed. Similarly, the more formats of material they can access, the higher their employment opportunities.
Whilst there is a positive relationship between education levels and employment rates, even among blind or low vision post-graduate degree holders, 34% do not have a job.”’
This can create quite a barrier for some men, especially those who loose their sight as an adult or who have limited formal education. So, how do we best support blind blokes to break through the barriers?
And, how do blokes who what to do manual work find a suitable job?