by Sherrie Crespo
From the Editor: Sherrie Crespo is an Employment Specialist with the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utah. Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah, reports that she is energetic and dedicated to helping blind people find work. She recently sent us the following article. It is refreshing to remember that dedicated professionals are at work across the country helping blind people find and keep jobs. This is what she says:
It's been an interesting couple of years for me as the only Employment Specialist specifically working with blind and visually impaired folks here in the state of Utah. I am honestly surprised at the positive and future thinking of many of the employers I have worked with.
I read the recent article by David Pillischer, "Engineering New Products for the Blind," (see the November, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor) and found myself agreeing with him regarding the "increased interest in companies that supply products to people with disabilities, particularly blindness." I find that the increased interest is not only with those companies but with all human resource managers and individuals in personnel offices. Many employers and their personnel staffs are coming to find that individuals with disabilities are a great resource pool. The personnel staffs are finding that the fact that people have disabilities does not mean they are incapable of performing much more than essential functions of most jobs.
With an accommodation (a modification or adjustment that allows an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in an application process or to perform a job's essential functions), many of the individuals I have worked with are more than capable of performing their required functions. Many of the reasonable accommodations for the blind and visually impaired come in the form of adaptive equipment for technology in the workplace. These accommodations include voice synthesizers, magnifiers, and Braille machines. Many of these adaptive devices have never been seen or heard of by the personnel staff or employer.
Here are the two most interesting phenomena I find on a daily basis in my work: one, employers are extremely receptive to learning about accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired, and two, employers are "blown away" at how much technology is available to accommodate this group.
One employer sticks out in my mind. He did not need to use any assistive technology or devices but provided a reasonable accommodation beyond anyone's wildest dreams. This employer had never worked with a blind person. He said he would like to see how the person could do the essential functions of the job (which had been listed with Workforce Services, the local job service).
We set an appointment for the employer to meet with the applicant. As we arrived at the place of employment, the employer greeted us and said, "There are three different positions available. We would like to extend the opportunity to you to test yourself at each job and choose which one you would like to do." The three position titles were production, labeling, and shrink wrapper. The applicant was eager to try each position. He sat down to each and decided on the shrink-wrapper position. He was hired in August, 1999, and is still there today.
The employer had never had a chance to work with a blind person and simply needed someone to open the door. He became educated about the abilities of blind people. He provided more than a reasonable accommodation to this client in that he provided the opportunity to choose among three possible jobs, was flexible about the schedule because the new employee was using an alternative mode of transportation, and started him at a dollar more an hour than was listed on the job referral.
Here is another example of an employer who has gone the extra mile in providing reasonable accommodations to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We have a large company that provides customer service across the state at six major call centers and offices. Each office handles different accounts. Providing services to each of these accounts, this employer is required to use different applications, hardware, and software supports. Each office has a team of human resource managers and information technology support staff. I have met with all of these teams throughout the state. They have worked to install and use many of the adaptive devices available, sometimes to no avail. I know that even today the Network Administrator from the South Jordan office and the information technology support staff are working to make the adaptive equipment work with the technology provided by their national account. I am impressed with the dedication the Network Administrator has shown in making the adaptive equipment work with these applications.
I am proud to work in Utah with such a futuristic thinking population of employers. It is a most interesting phenomenon to find them so receptive to working with and learning about people who are blind and visually impaired. It is rewarding to me to know I've provided some positive interventions, not only in the lives of blind people, but to open the eyes of those who can see. The adaptive equipment has only just scratched the surface of technological changes to come. Soon everyone will be dazzled by how much technology is available to accommodate blind people.