When I think about persons with disabilities looking for work, several issues come to mind that need to be addressed way before reaching the job interview process, beginning with self esteem. A child with a disability needs to be presented choices and options of alternative ways to do things. Also, teach the child about the disability and allow him to challenge limitations.
In the past many people with disabilities have not been challenged to face things that might be difficult. Instead, for the most part, they were sheltered into safe positions established by persons that are nondisabled. This type of attitude fostered such environments as private residential schools, sheltered workshops, and closed industries for persons with disabilities. While these settings were used for training many persons with disabilities from the 1800's through the mid-1970's, in actuality, they served to keep persons with disabilities out of the mainstream.
It was generally assumed that a person with a disability would never have a career like their non-disabled counterparts or, at best, they would work within the system with only persons with the same disability. When I attended a leading college for training special education teachers, this attitude prevailed. But I did not wish to have a degree in visual impairments teaching, so I had to continually justify my stand that I could work in a sighted world with sighted people. I knew I could do that.
Secondarily, the family and the person with the disability need to be encouraged, nudged, and even pushed a little to become an active part of their community. To be involved in school functions, church, work or volunteer settings is sometimes difficult. The tendency is to avoid involvement rather than be hurt by someone's thoughtless attitudes. When a disabled person and their family enter a community, they need skills to break the social barriers. People unfamiliar with disabilities need to be taught about disabilities, and a person with a disability insisting on being in the mainstream can provide positive examples. Sometimes people behave in odd ways around someone with a disability only because they don't understand. They may shy away from the disabled family member or, at other times, treat the person with a disability as if they have a contagious disease. Other times, the person with a disability may be treated as if they are an eternal child or a saint gifted with mysterious powers. Remember even those without disabilities are sometimes criticized by their peers. That's just part of life. Also, there are those persons who genuinely want to get to know and accept you as you are: a competent person who happens to have a disability in one or more areas.
Thirdly, make sure the education the person with a disability is given is adequate to extend to college or a chosen career. Too many school systems are still meeting the minimum requirements instead of striving for excellence. Providing an inadequate education to someone with a disability only adds to his or her disability.
Fourth, the individual person needs to find a career in which they are really interested -- one they want bad enough to really fight to get because, in reality, it is an uphill battle. Gain all the skills necessary for the job you want. While it is unfair, a person with a disability often has to have more to offer than their nondisabled counterpart to get their desired position. It may take several tries at various jobs or positions before the best one is found. After all, how many nondisabled people only have one work opportunity between the ages of 18 and retirement? It is better to try and fail than never to try at all. And if you keep trying, a door will open. Perhaps things will open up even better than you had hoped. Forget the myth that disabled persons have to be perfect. No one is. We just have to do our best.
Today there are many persons with disabilities working in almost any job imaginable. For more information go to eSight Careers network website or check out the National Federation for the Blind website.
I received my training in assistive technology at the Technology Access Center (TAC). This is my description of how TAC helped me.
I am a single parent of two children. As a homemaker for ten years, I was very out of touch with any of the current advances in technology. When my youngest child started school, I decided to update my training and pursue employment outside the home. Previously, I had taught adult education courses and had been involved in radio ministry.
For technology training, I thought my only option was to go to a state-sponsored residential facility about two and a half hours each way from my home. I would have had to move my family and interrupt their school year, or leave them with friends, causing a lot of needless anxiety and frustration for my children and me. I knew I would never leave them to receive training. At the point of giving up, I ask my rehab counselor if there was anywhere else I could train. She referred me to the Technology Access Center in Nashville, Tennessee. This was an excellent place for me. I could ride the bus to Nashville, receive training, and be home with my children at night. TAC did a lot more for me than just teach me to use a computer with JAWS screen reading software. They helped to restore my confidence in myself. In addition to that, they helped me explore job possibilities and other interests.
The training setting at TAC was more like an office setting than an institutional one. I worked at my own pace with knowledgeable and supportive instructors. I felt very comfortable working at TAC, and I was challenged to do my best, but not overwhelmed.
Having a computer with JAWS and an Open book program has given me an independence that I could only dream about before. I now use my computer to read mail, do research for my radio ministry, help my children with homework, study a Hadley course, and prepare for three classes I teach at church.
Having training and becoming proficient in the use of computers has also allowed me to tutor students in the Middle Tennessee area. Not only did TAC train me, they also referred me my first student and hired me as a consultant to teach based on my newly learned computer expertise and teaching experience. Since then I have continued to search for other students to tutor, helping to fill the gap in services for the Middle Tennessee counties by working as a consulting trainer for TAC when there were students in my area.
JAWS screen reader and Open Book scanning/reading system have also minimized my need for a sighted reader. I have used the computer in tutoring, e-mailing results to the appropriate offices — something I could have never completed before this technology was made available to me.
TAC in Nashville has continued to send me students. They have been there to answer my computing questions and have gone way beyond the point of basic service. The staff at TAC has made a lasting impact on the life of my children and myself. Please visit: their website for more information about the Technology Access Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
— Bonita Dearmond