Tips for Your Students On Talking About a Disability with an Employer

I recently wrote a post about how to help your students talk about their disabilities to people they encounter on a daily basis. This is a very important skill to have in order for students to be strong self advocates and social communicators, and to make successful transitions to adulthood. Another related and equally important skill is being able to talk about a vision impairment with a potential employer. 

When a person with a vision impairment attends a job interview, she is bound to face questions or concerns about how she will perform the job without sight. In order for a person with a vision impairment to secure a job, being able to address these questions or concerns is paramount.

It is important to note that many employers may not ask about a person’s disability during an interview due to concerns about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, if the applicant is comfortable sharing information about the vision impairment during the interview process, the in-person interview can be a great opportunity to do so.

How It’s Done

The first important thing is for a student to be able to describe her disability. She must be able to put it into words that an employer can understand, leaving out any medical terminology and using relevant examples if possible, e.g. “I can see that there is light coming from across the room, but I can’t tell if it is from a window or a lamp.” Or “I can tell that this paper has writing on it, but I can’t make out any of the words on the page.”

Your student should also be able to describe some of her compensatory strategies, which will help to allay any concerns about the vision impairment. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, employers have four primary concerns about hiring someone who is visually impaired or blind. Here is how to address each of them in kind:

Travel:

Employers want to be sure employees can get to and from work reliably and that they can navigate around the workspace. Your student should be able to explain how she is able to travel independently, or how she learns to navigate a new and unfamiliar area. She might explain, for instance, that she can come to the workplace a couple times before starting the job to learn her way around.  An interview is also a great time to show off strong orientation and mobility skills to an employer, so make sure your cane-using student brings and uses her cane on interview day!

Safety:

Employers want to know that employees will be safe on the job. This can be another opportunity for your student to demonstrate her safe travel skills, and can also be a time to talk about accommodations that may help to keep her safe in the workplace without sight. For example, if she is applying for a dishwashing job, how will she keep from getting cut by soapy cutlery? She should be able to communicate with the employer that with proper safety measures and strategies, her blindness will not be a liability.

Access to printed material:

How can your student read emails? What about paper files or memos? This is a great opportunity to talk about compensatory strategies, and to discuss some of the assistive technology your student uses to help her access print. It is always a good idea to have a way to take notes at an interview, so if your student brings along her preferred note-taking device and uses it during the interview, this can be a great conversation starter.

Productivity:

Some employers have concerns that a person who is visually impaired or blind may not be able to be as productive as her sighted counterparts. Again, explaining some compensatory strategies and technologies can help to address these concerns. If your student is applying for an office job, for example, she may want to mention her typing speed or her adeptness with MS Office products. She can also address how she keeps from making mistakes (e.g. using screen reading software to pick up on spelling errors). If your student understands the particular duties of the job, she can address some of those duties specifically and provide examples of how she would perform them.

When talking with a potential employer about a vision impairment, the key is to stay positive and to emphasize compensatory strategies. There is no need to address things in great length; rather, a few examples and maybe a little demonstration is all that is needed. The disability isn’t and shouldn’t be the focus of the interview, but is just another way for a prospective employee to market herself as a confident and competent candidate for a job.

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