In 2010 I had an article published on a website designed to give a positive voice to people with a disability. My original essay was written in a loose
story-teller style. Its purpose was to highlight my experience as a `job seeker`, and what men feel in a time of dramatic change.
The following story is the edited and revised version as it appeared on site.
Working for more choice [28/9]
Working for more choice
In 1982 I lost most of my vision. I was 17 years old when I was affected by a hereditary genetic disease. My vision rapidly reduced to below six percent.
I was worried about what I would do for work. So I completed a program called preparation for employment. It was in 1983.
At the program I asked what most blind people did for work. The response was: “A lot of blind people work at The Institute for the Blind. It is a workshop where they make doormats and cane furniture. Or many people with low vision work as switchboard operators.”
Losing my eyesight had a dramatic effect on me. 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 do most things required for living with low vision. I thought it would also not be too difficult to find work. But there were two personal stumbling blocks. I did not know what I wanted to do. I also did not really know what someone with low vision could do. That was when my search began.
I have known many blind people who are fantastic switchboard operators. It appears to be a terrific job which they enjoy greatly. But it has never appealed to me. I was stunned and a little disappointed that this was my probable allotted career path. I knew in 1983 that people who are blind must be doing a greater variety of work. I also knew that I could find work more suitable and interesting to me.
Last month I met a guy who asked me the same question I asked back in 1983. He was wondering the same things as I was. To his horror he was told that most blind people work in administration or call centres. He was told this by someone at a Disability Employment Network agency. I recently withdrew from the same agency. It reminded me too much of the attitudes from 1983. Unlike their attitude, I have moved on.
Some attitudes among employment service providers have not improved in recent years. Yet I know that the range of employment opportunities for people with a disability is endless. Unfortunately, unemployment among people with vision impairment is still extremely high.
Australian Bureau of Statistics employment figures from 2003 are not good. They show 53.2 per cent of people with a disability participated in the labour force. That compared poorly to 80.6 per cent of people without a disability.
Vision Australia also commissioned a report in 2007 about employment. The report found 63 per cent of people who are blind or have low vision that want to work are unemployed. It also found many people had given up looking for paid employment.
There have been many important technology advancements in recent years. There has also been improvement to social and political attitudes regarding people with a disability. Changing conditions have allowed us to feel more included in the community. But there is much dissatisfaction and gaps in service provision. Employment is one of those areas.
For people with a disability who enjoy or are suited to administration roles, there is a lot of support and practical assistance available. But I wonder what happens to others not suited to office work? Vision Australia’s 2007 employment report showed the people with vision impairment were less likely to be employed if they had limited education.
The report says “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.”
Today I wonder how we should best support people with vision impairment to break through the barriers? And how do people who want manual work find a suitable job?