I’m blind. Not completely, but I’m registered blind. I have been since birth and there’s no chance of fixing it. During my life I’ve faced many challenges, most of which I’ve overcome. I’ve sailed across the Bay of Biscay in a large racing yacht; I’ve been a trustee of two large charities in Scotland and England; I’ve achieved a first class honours degree in Marketing and I’ve traveled the world playing traditional Scottish music. Nevertheless, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a blind person is find a job. Why? Of course, I face the ‘standard’ problems that recent graduates with sight face, such as a saturated job market with a plethora of graduates competing against each other, but I think there’s something more. I believe that any impairment, not just visual impairment, is a barrier to employment – but only because disabled people don’t know how to talk positively about their impairment. I’m a fairly confident, but even I struggled.
The advent of Auntie Facebook, Uncle Google, and cousin LinkedIn has meant that employers, now more than ever, find it easy to ‘research’ interviewees. They shouldn’t, and none will admit to it, but they do. Simply by Googling a name you can find any amount of information on a person, including pictures. For me, this is the biggest problem. Not because I have a profusion of pictures from lads’ holidays in Magaluf, but because my visual impairment is (ironically) visible in pictures. By finding an image of me, potential employers can tell, straight away that I’m visually impaired. Even though my CV or my application form doesn’t mention it, they know I’m a blind before I’ve even sat down and they already have thoughts such as (perceived) extra costs, medical leave and political correctness in the office running through their heads.
This really bothered me until recently. At one point I had two online identities: one, my “professional” one, was as Robert Crow and the other, my “personal” one, was Robbie Crow. I applied for jobs as Robert and lived my life as Robbie. Then I decided enough was enough.
Being born with a visual impairment is often portrayed as being a disadvantage, I’d argue to the contrary. Ignoring the fact that companies have quotas to meet, let’s consider the skills that having a physical impairment gives you.
Firstly, we’ve been problem solving and independently thinking since we were little. From getting on the wrong bus or train (or plane – don’t ask) and getting lost or being given print that’s too small to read at school, we’ve had to figure out the best way to turn that situation around rather quickly. We (nearly) always succeed – because we have to. Working independently is our jam, too. Often we work in ways which are magical and mythical to others – how do we avoid those lampposts? How do we know how far away that car is? How do we read that Braille? How do we understand that fast-talking computer? We work in our own ways because no-one else understands them, but they work and we’re good at coming back as part of the group when we need to – what employer wouldn’t love that? Lastly, being blind has meant – for me, anyway – that I’ve received a brilliant education. Due to the extra support I received in school I not only achieved good marks but I also learned how to deal with my disability properly, including how to make adaptations to everyday tasks to suit myself and not impede upon others. I learned how to touch type too, which means that I can type 110 words per minute with 98% accuracy. I challenge anyone to find me 20 graduates that can do that.
What I’ve learnt since leaving university is that being disabled isn’t a barrier to working. Having a bad attitude with your impairment is. If you treat disability right, it can be advantageous to your situation but only if you have the right mindset. Be the writer of your own future, don’t be the reader.